Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

The 3hree Musketeers
is a Cumbersome Musical

Once again Aramis, Porthos and Athos come running and dueling on the stage. Since Alexandre Dumas wrote the novel in 1843, there have been over 100 productions of this famous classic. Popular with silent film makers because it contains a lot of swashbuckling sword play, there was also an MGM spectacular film with Gene Kelly and Lana Turner plus Richard Lester's camp of the story, and a 1919 operetta that seems to appear every now and then in the UK. About the only memorable thing from that operetta is the rousing song, "We are the Musketeers."

Several seasons ago, the big hit of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was the non-musical The Three Musketeers. Dashing yet campy and with actors who knew how to act in the grand style, it deserved its success.

We now come to the AMT's American premier of George Stiles and Paul Leigh's musical, The 3hree Musketeers. It has a history of trying to be presented as a full scale production. It was entered into the International Musical competition in Europe in 1996. It came in second behind the musical Enter the Guardsman. There was talk of mounting a production in London's West End, but something always occurred to prevent that from happening. It finally had a full scale production in St. Gallen, Switzerland, of all places, in 2000. In the meantime, George Stiles wrote the music to the Olivier Award winning musical, Honk.

There was a reading in New York of the musical and finally the American Musical Theatre decided to mount the first American production. They poured 1 million dollars in the project and obtained top New York and regional actors for the cast. It was the most expensive project that this company has ever undertaken.

I am sorry to say that I found it one of the most cumbersome and dull musicals of the past several years. I felt sorry for actors since they gave their all to make this show sparkle, but the music and sluggish direction was against them from the start.

The production uses the full story of the classic novel which is long without the music. The story is well known and this musical tells the whole story right through to the death of D'Artagnan's lover and the execution of Milady Winters. With the tedious music it is a burdensome 3 hour and 10 minute production.

This musical should have moments of fun and swordplay with a certain amount of camp, but this story takes a more serious and philosophical turn as D'Artagnan comes to see what really matters to him. The musical is too serious for its own good. The strongest actors had problems making their characters stand out so they became cardboard characters, making rapid entrances and exits with inane dialogue.

The opening is clever. A large group of commedia-clad actors do various acrobatic acts on the stage to entertain those coming into the large cavernous playhouse. The lights go down and the overture starts. The orchestra is excellent. It looked very promising when Christian Borle, as Planchet, came out to tell the audience what was about to happen. This young actor who scored such a hit in Footloose in New York, is excellent; lively, entertaining and has a great voice.

From there everything went down hill. The musical goes nowhere at a snail's pace. There is no development of the characters. The pacing is uneven and many of the numbers are just plain dull and repetitive. The score sounds like a minor Frank Wildhorn score and I am not crazy about his major scores. I like only two songs. The rousing "The Life of A Musketeer" is fun and bouncy. The whole company sings it toward the end of the first act, which incidentally should have been the end of the first act instead of going to two more UN-eventful scenes. The opening number of the second act called "Time" is also a lovely number sung by the entire cast.

Jim Stanek stands out as D'Artagnan, at once boyish and full of fun. He has a great voice and you instantly like his naivete. He's also the best actor in this production. I remember him as Hero in the New York production of Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Saturday Night. He is an asset to this musical.

The regular Musketeers are played by Broadway veterans Robert Mammana, Fred Inkley and Alton Fitzgerald White. Of the three, Mr. White stands out with his strong, powerful voice. A former cast member of Ragtime on Broadway, Mr. White shines in the song "Ghosts". I loved Sutton Foster as "Millie" in Thoroughly Modern Millie; here she grated on my nerves as D'Artagnan's love interest. Her voice is too harsh for romantic ballads. Rachel deBendedet, who has a better, softer voice, plays Midlady de Winter. However, in her big scene in the second act, some costume designer, who must have something against her, took revenge. She looked like Bette Davis in Baby Jane, blonde curls and all. I could not help but laugh throughout this very serious scene.

The choreography was ludicrous. In the beginning of the musical, D'Artagnan comes riding from the country to Paris on a "horse", another male, bent over and in a horse mask. There were many snickers from the audience since it looked rather pornographic. To make matters worst, toward the end of the first act when all of the musketeers must ride from Paris to Calais, they all mount "horses" and do this ridiculous dance again.

The set looked like a sepia tone movie, a grim set with dark wood stairs and bridges that move around the stage. It is a two story set with some of the minor action taking place on the upper stage. Time passage or changes of scenes are shown by actors running across the stage with cascades of white silk. Some of the actors become part of the furniture like statues holding candles, or garden sculptures.

If this musical is going anywhere, it needs serious cutting and drastic changes.

The musical runs through March 25 at the American Musical Theatre in San Jose. Tickets are $40.00 to $60.00. Call 888-455-SHOW or or go to The 3hree The final the last show of the season will be

Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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