Saturday, September 16, 2023

"The Three Musketeers" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

Lakeshore Players Theatre's ambitious 71st season began in August with the one-weekend-only regional premiere production of the smart, funny, poignant play What the Constitution Means to Me (which is being remounted tomorrow, September 17, and for a few dates in January). They're following up that excellent debut with a super fun swash-buckling spectacular - The Three Musketeers. Playwright Ken Ludwig, whose adaptations of the Robin Hood legend and Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express have been seen around town lately, applies his trademark wit and speed to this story for a fun, fresh, and modern take on the 19th Century French novel that is a familiar part of pop culture. The large and talented cast performs some mightily impressive fight scenes in this simple story of good vs. evil, with a true spirit of "all for one, and one for all." See it at the Hanifl Performing Arts Center in charming White Bear Lake now through October 1.

The story, set in 1625 France, begins with a young man named D'Artagnan leaving home to move to Paris and join the Musketeers in protection of the King, as his father did before him. In this version of the story, he brings his little sister Sabine along with him, which I'm pretty sure was not part of the original, but is one way in which the playwright modernizes the story and makes it more relevant to today's audience - bringing more women into the story and giving them more agency. The siblings encounter many adventures along the way, and get in many sword fights, eventually befriending the titular three musketeers - Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. Both siblings fall in love and fight alongside or in protection of their beloved, and become enemies of Cardinal Richelieu, who's trying to undermine the King and Queen by exposing the Queen's affair. In the end, our heroes win out, but not without some tragedy along the way.

Eric Morris, a familiar face on stages around town, makes his Lakeshore Players Theatre debut directing this piece, imbuing it with energy, hilarity, and joy. The large and talented cast (although sadly lacking in diversity) fully embodies this almost campy tone, and performs some wicked fight choreography by Mason Tyler (during one intense fight scene I heard a young audience member say "this is sick," I think that's a good thing). There are too many sword fights to count, from one-on-one battles, to ten or more people moving all around the stage clanging swords. On top of that there are also some impressive hand-to-hand combat scenes, with some crazy lifts that hopefully are not as dangerous as they look. It's a beautiful dance, including some slo-mo fighting, and there's some actual dancing too, with a fun soundtrack of pop music from different eras, including '80s (sound design by Nathaniel Glewwe). The play spills off the stage and into the audience, with the cast moving up and down the aisles and along the sides, for an immersive experience.

Athos (Jake Stone), Porthos (Mary Karcz), and Aramis
(Christopher Kent, photo by M&D Media)
Coincidentally (or not), Lance Krohn, who played Robin Hood in Ken Ludwig's Sherwood at Theatre in the Round this summer, also leads the cast here as D'Artagnan, an amiable eager hero. Aerin O'Malley, one of the Girl Scouts from this year's Fringe hit, is adorably spunky as Sabine, holding her own fighting amongst the boys. Speaking of, there's a bit of gender-swapping, with women playing a few of the male characters, including Mary Karcz as one of the Three Musketeers, forming a great trio with Jake Stone and Christopher Kent, who each bring something unique to the group. As the villain Cardinal, Luke Aaron Davidson is cartoonishly evil in a fun mustache-twirling way, with Taylor Evans as his put-upon lackey who eventually stands up to his boss. Garrett Hildebrandt is a charming King Louis XIII, Faith Winship is his tough and smart wife, and Louis Estell steals many scenes as multiple different characters. The entire ensemble is great and works well together, performing both the comedy and the fighting with broad strokes. And I don't know if good hair was a requirement in casting, or it just worked out that way, but there is much of it on display here.

The look of the show is more modern and colorful than authentic period piece, which fits well with the tone of the play. Four large cylindrical platforms adorn the stage, with characters leaping from one to the next, requiring a certain physicality of movement from the start. There are some clever things done with lighting, creating tableaux, and the costumes are a fun mix of modern and period, with lots of leather, denim, and fleur de lis. (Lighting design by Alex Clark, costume design by Sarah Christenson.)

Lakeshore Players Theatre's production of the classic story of The Three Musketeers, with a fun and modern twist, is solid entertainment from start to finish, with lots of excitement and comedy along the way.