‘Three Musketeers’ in Madison: All for fun, and fun for all

Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers. Adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Directed by Rick Sordelet. Pictured (left to right): John Keabler as Athos, Jeffrey M. Bender as Rochefort, Alexander Sovronsky as Aramis, Paul Molnar as Porthos, and Andrea Morales as Sabine. Photo credit: Jerry Dalia.
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The movies are awash in superheroes these days; you would think the concept is something new.

Of course, Hercules, Odysseus and Spartacus had their fans back in Antiquity.

But the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison makes a strong case for the first “modern” superheroes, with Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers.

Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers. Adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Directed by Rick Sordelet. Pictured (center): Paul Molnar as Porthos. Photo credit: Jerry Dalia.

Seventeenth-century France may not sound all that modern. But really, the Avengers and the Justice League have nothing on Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Or for that matter, on D’Artagnan, the Clark Kent / Peter Parker of his era.

Updating the Alexandre Dumas classic for England’s Bristol Old Vic in 2006, Ludwig added a fifth Musketeer with Wonder Woman aspirations, D’Artagnan’s kid sister, Sabine.

For two hours, these characters battle the evil Cardinal Richelieu, defend the Queen’s honor, uphold the rule of law, and cut up each other with buddy-picture repartee while carving up the Cardinal’s henchmen with rapier ripostes.

Like the best superhero blockbusters, this incarnation of The Three Musketeers moves faster than the speed of thought, takes no prisoners, and sends you home frothing for a sequel.

Slideshow photos by Jerry Dahlia:

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The abundant swordplay should come with an opening disclaimer: Kids, do NOT try this at home!

Indeed, the unsung star of this production is fight director Christian Kelly-Sordelet, son of director Rick Sordelet, one of Broadway’s great fight choreographers. The cast also includes at least two members with fight directing experience, David Debesse (Treville/ D’Artagnan’s father) and the Sorbonne-educated Anastasia Le Gendre (Milady).

This explains why, for all the flashing steel —SPOILER ALERT!— almost nobody gets hurt.

Versatility is a hallmark of the The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s acting company, and it’s fun seeing familiar faces tackling new roles.  One suspects you could hand them a script on a Saturday afternoon and they would give you a respectable show that same evening.

Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers. Adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Directed by Rick Sordelet. Pictured (left to right in foreground): Cooper Jennings as D’Artagnan, Nick Meittinis as Cardinal’s Guard, and Jeffrey M. Bender as Rochefort. Photo credit: Jerry Dalia.

John Keabler, who local fans will remember as George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, A Live Radio Play and Polixenes in The Winter’s Tale, is a suitably dashing Athos. Like most superheroes, Athos harbors a dark secret.

Bruce Cromer, who was so maniacally creepy as Titus in Titus Andronicus, is creepy as Cardinal Richelieu, too — in a more savory way. (Comedy without cannibalism.)

Sabine, the tomboy in search of romance and adventure, gets a healthy dose of spunk from Courtney McGowan (Winter’s Tale, Titus, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Company stalwarts Jeffrey Bender (The Servant of Two Masters, The Tempest) and Patrick Toon (Tartuffe, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) (revised)) wring some laughs from those nasty brutes, Rochefort and Ravanche.

And Clark Scott Carmichael and Michael Stewart Allen, also seasoned veterans in Madison, seem to thoroughly enjoy attempting to out-fop each other as the Duke of Buckingham and King Louis XIII, respectively.

Newcomer Cooper Jennings manages the role of D’Artagnan, a bumbling bumpkin of noble heart, without falling on his sword.  He is bound for Juilliard, which should be safer.

Although it’s not a musical, Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers throws in a few amusing musical moments.

A ribald celebration of balls oozes goofy goodness. And during the King’s loopy dance honoring his Queen (Fiona Robberson), you might catch a whiff of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.

We’ll stop now. If you want to Marvel at these superheroes, here’s how:

Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers , directed by Rick Sordelet, kicks off the 57th season of the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison with shows through July 7, 2019. Tickets start at $49. On the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Ave., 973-408-5600.

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