You know the story about three guys with long hair who are handy with their instruments? A rebellious trio who like to dress in leather pants, knee-high boots and poofy shirts? That story about how they hold an audition for another lad who wants to join their group?
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival is putting on a pretty good version of it.
I’m not talking about a stage adaptation of a VH1 “Behind the Music” look into the high times and misadventures of a 1970s rock ‘n’ roll group. I’m talking about French novelist Alexandre Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers.”
With director Carolyn Howarth’s production, though, there’s a connection between classic rock and said classic novel, set in 1625 Paris. Howarth and sound designer Merlin James Alexandre Salisbury — now that’s a name worthy of a character from a novel set in a past century — spike their otherwise straight telling of Dumas’ story with songs from the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Queen, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.
A full day after watching the opening-night performance, I’m still not sure whether it works artistically. Publicity photos of Led Zeppelin circa 1974 look like the four Englishmen could be Dumas’ swordsmen Aramis, Athos, Porthos and d’Artagnan.
And there’s that whole Musketeer-like mythos built up around the quintessential rock band: Four guys join together with an “all for one, one for all” ethic and head out into the world on a great adventure.
On the one hand, it’s fun to sit in the audience and play “name that tune” as the Mary Rippon Theatre’s sound system blares guitar riffs during scene changes. On the other hand, it’s distracting. The jarring juxtaposition of 17th century setting and classic rock nearly dominates the show. Sort of how it’s dominating the content of this review.
Otherwise, the play is faithful to the novel. It covers d’Artagnan’s (Mat Hostetler) arrival in Paris and his naive ambition to join the Musketeers, the elite group of swordsmen loyal to King Louis XIII (played wonderfully as a tempestuous child by Chip Persons) and Queen Anne (a dignified turn by Alexandra C. Lewis).
D’Artagnan quickly gets caught up in the French political struggles, and an intrigue involving an English noble, Buckingham (a wonderfully playful Sean Tarrant), Cardinal Richelieu (an austere Ted Barton) and the Countess de Winter (a resourceful Karen Slack). He also falls in love with a married woman, Constance (a fine performance by Jennifer Le Blanc).
This is CSF’s largest production this summer, in terms of the artistic and production team, and reportedly is the largest show they’ve ever staged. Certainly, CSF has never presented a show with this much swashbuckling stage combat.
Fight director Geoffrey Kent directs as much roughhousing as a Democratic National Convention protest. These aren’t simply one-on-one duels. These are full-on battle scenes that often turn clever and comedic. It’s a very impressive display, and one that drew deserved applause from the audience on several occasions on opening night.
Kent is also in his element as a dashing, lovelorn and quick-witted Aramis. Stephen Weitz’s Porthos is sardonic and brooding. Gary Wright plays Porthos with narcissistic flair. Hostetler’s d’Artagnan is youthful, eager and fearless.
The entire ensemble is strong, but kudos to Seth Maisel, who displays great athleticism and physical humor during several fights as Jussac, and to Barzin Akhavan, who stalks the stage like a rock star as Rochefort, Richelieu’s muscle.
Costumer Anne Murphy outfits the cast smartly in 17th-century finery. Andrea Bechert’s scenic design is expansive and masculine, and consists of a French country estate as backdrop.
“The Three Musketeers” is a big story and a big show, indeed. And with so many subplots, it grows a bit long, especially in the second act.
It’s not unlike going to see a concert of that big band that’s coming through town. It opens well, there are some high points, lots of spectacle, it drags in places and is a little longwinded. But overall, it rocks.