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All for Fun: Musketeers (left to right) Aramis (Robert Mammana), Porthos (Fred Inkley), Athos (Alton Fitzgerald White) and D'Artagnan (Jim Stanek) enjoy saving France for a living.

'Teers for Fears

'3hree Musketeers' gets back to intriguing roots of Dumas classic

By Heather Zimmerman

TO BE SURE, swashbuckling reigns in the newest adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' famous Three Musketeers, presented by American Musical Theatre of San Jose, but this musical retelling, renamed The 3hree Musketeers, also takes the story back to its roots of poisonous court intrigue, with generally delightful results.

This nearly brand-new musical, with music by George Stiles, lyrics by Paul Leigh and book by Peter Raby, has local roots as well: it was workshopped here last summer by AMTSJ, with five semistaged performances presented for audience feedback. This production marks the musical's American premiere.

The retelling keeps its edge by embracing the story's darker aspects. A keener sense of danger and treachery pervades King Louis XIII's court and, in fact, all of Paris. The French monarch's adviser, the powerful Cardinal Richelieu (James Carpenter), schemes to undermine the young, inexperienced ruler.

He works to alienate the king from his wife, Queen Anne (Elizabeth Ann Campisi), and maintains a far-reaching spy network, which includes the early-model Mata Hari, Milady deWinter (Rachel deBenedet). Into this vipers' nest comes country boy D'Artagnan (Jim Stanek) with aspirations of joining the prestigious king's guardsmen, the musketeers. He finds himself the best mentors in the three best musketeers, who are also inseparable friends: Athos (Alton Fitzgerald White), Porthos (Fred Inkley) and Aramis (Robert Mammana).

The musical is a bit like its main hero: generally quite solid, with a few areas that could stand improvement. Some scenes drag, and a few songs could have been cut--in particular tunes meant to advance the more standard plot points, such as a bland romance between D'Artagnan and royal confidante Constance (Sutton Foster).

The darker characters, especially Milady (an excellent performance by deBenedet) are more multifaceted, and even the heroic three musketeers have flaws that deepen the characters.

The show does best when it focuses on politics, whether it's the royal maneuverings of Richelieu or the sexual politics Milady exploits. The most inspired tunes, the opportunistic "A Good Old-Fashioned War" and Milady's ode to the truly "weaker sex," "Gentlemen," both showcase Stiles and Leigh's talent for skewering the less-admirable side of human nature.

The inspiration proves contagious, as choreographer Dottie Lester-White's best number in the show is also "A Good Old-Fashioned War," featuring a chorus line of marching townspeople armed with baguettes.

Under Richelieu's leadership, Paris thrives on pretense and artifice, and accordingly, this production is self-consciously theatrical. Elizabeth Poindexter's shimmering but shadowy costumes, many of them topped with slightly sinister commedia dell'arte style masks for the ensemble, mingle nicely with the muted darkness of J.B. Wilson's ever-changing set. All in all, The 3hree Musketeers shows us a City of Lights that has never seemed darker--and yet never more inviting.

The 3hree Musketeers plays Tuesday-Friday at 8pm (except March 20), Saturday at 2 and 8pm, Sunday at 2 and 7pm through Mar 25 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose. Tickets are $40-$60. (888.455.SHOW)

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From the March 15-21, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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