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The Three Musketeers (Review)

Playhouse production has lots of laughs but could use more heart

By Rick Pender · September 7th, 2012 · Onstage
onstage 9-12 - three musketeers @ cincinnati playhouse - photo sandy underwoodPhoto: Sandy Underwood
The Cincinnati Playhouse season began with a bang on Sept. 6 as dueling swordsmen chased through the aisles and new Artistic Director Blake Robison scurried off the stage after his first curtain speech. He chose The Three Musketeers to inaugurate his tenure, a show representing his hope to appeal to audiences young and old. It’s jam-packed with rousing non-stop action, hearty laughs and big storytelling as well as beautiful scenic and costume elements. But Robison’s production tries so hard to entertain that it slips on slapstick banana peels and fails to make the adventure heartfelt and genuine. 

I want praise what’s great: Robison and fight choreographer Drew Fracher have staged enough swashbuckling swordplay and heroic physicality to keep audiences applauding after numerous brawls and duels, performed at full-speed and with reckless abandon by skilled performers.

James Kronzer’s multi-level set of Baroque arches, doors and shuttered windows, augmented by a trap with an elevator lift, enables fluid, cinematic scene changes. Bill Black’s costume designs, especially for the effete royalty, are spectacular.

But taking a cue from Ken Ludwig’s jokey, anachronistic script that’s — (D’Artagnan’s kid sister Sabine, disdaining a convent school, opines, “You know being a girl in the 17th century is just not that much fun”) — Robison has stuffed The Three Musketeers with wink-wink references that make this production more about self-aware humor than true emotion. That’s OK for much of what happens action, and it’s certainly what Ludwig’s adaptation invites. But it renders too many characters as caricatures. When more dramatic moments require a depth of feeling, they tend to feel shallow or fall flat. And occasionally things are drawn out to the point of ridiculousness, especially when an innkeeper drinks poisoned wine and dies with overlong comic gasping and mugging reminiscent of the Three Stooges. 

The cast of 18 includes Adam Van Wagoner as an energetic D’Artagnan and Nick Vannoy, Grant Goodman and Reese Madigan as the valiant Musketeers. Adria Vitlar is the show’s cold-blooded villainess, while John Feltch’s constantly thwarted Cardinal Richelieu never gets to show much of his evil side. Kevin Orton has a silly turn as Louis XIII. These performers and others will entertain, but I wanted to be swept away, and that didn’t happen.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS, presented by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, continues through Sept. 29.



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