Based on the classic novel by Alexander Dumas, "The Three Musketeers" recounts the adventures of young d'Artagnan and his three fellow musketeers "? Athos, Porthos and Aramis "? as they fight to preserve the monarchy of France, sometimes against the machinations of the manipulative Cardinal Richelieu and sometimes from its own indiscretions, brawling and drinking along the way.
According to a note from dramaturge Clarissa Betts in the program, the University of Oklahoma's adaptation of "Musketeers" was chosen by director Lee Neibert for its "faithfulness to the novel and its authentic characters," which it certainly is in terms of plot detail and length.
In execution, however, Neibert tends to go really broad with some of the characterizations and action scenes, especially in Act 1, relying on physical comedy to get some cheap laughs as epitomized when not one, but two characters are simultaneously neutralized by nut shots during a bar fight.
As d'Artagnan, Jordan Brodess is immensely likable and charming at first, especially during his early interactions with the other musketeers. However, as the play goes on and d'Artagnan loses his innocence and his moral credibility, his shaggy haired sulking takes on an unintentionally amusing, proto-emo quality.
As Athos, Paul Stuart is serviceably gallant for the duration, but really comes to life during a scene in which he recounts the deception and betrayal of a nobleman by his wife, and later, in a brief but intense exchange with the Countess de Winter, played with unapologetic power and guile by Aimee Crowther. No mere one-note villainess, her layered performance raises the game of the other actors.
Colin Ryan's Porthos is everything you'd expect from the character, but he really shines during the bar fights and when acting opposite Tyler Thompson as his utterly ridiculous mistress, Madame de Coquenard, whose warbled voice and constant gyrations are so absurd as to dare you to question the reasonability of the performance "? if you weren't too busy laughing at the outrageousness of it all.
As Aramis, Jordan Blount delivers the most self-assured performance among the musketeers. Playing up the internal struggle between Aramis the lover and Aramis the would-be priest, Blount earns some well-deserved laughs, especially during some fun exchanges with d'Artagnan.
OU professor and veteran stage and screen actor Darryl Cox delivers a pitch-perfect performance as devious mastermind Cardinal Richelieu. Emitting a quiet intensity, he whispers suggestions into the king's ear like the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
Cox even manages to maintain his dignity while playing the straight man to Brandon Christopher Simmons' admittedly funny but over-the-top portrayal of King Louis XIII as a flaming queen. While there's some historical evidence to suggest the king might have at the very least batted for both teams, his portrayal as an effeminate clown seems to owe more to modern film versions of "Musketeers" than Dumas' novel.
The lighting, set design, and staging are all first-rate although the fight choreography could have been tighter. A star of the show in its own right is the magnificent costume design by Professor Mike Buchwald. After 40 years and designing costumes for more than 300 productions at OU, Buchwald will be retiring in the spring, but not before wowing audiences with this beautiful and audacious work.
While there are some issues with tone, OU's production of "The Three Musketeers" still succeeds as a spectacularly staged comedic adventure.
The Three Musketeers stages at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday at the University of Oklahoma School of Drama at the Weitzenhoffer Theatre, 563 Elm in Norman.