Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers is a veritable soap opera set in the 17th century. Dumas gave French history a face, a personality, romance, and intrigue, and his novel spawned hundreds of incarnations in poetry, fiction, film, and theater. This musical version of his 1844 novel suffers from a lack of focus and identity. It simply doesn't know what it wants to be yet, mixing romantic, dramatic, and melodramatic elements along with slapstick and spoof comedy.
At intermission, a girl two rows behind me lamented, "They assume that you have read the book!" and I agreed. Lacking the time to read over the 800-page tome before viewing the musical, I hoped for a clear and straightforward retelling of the Musketeers' story. (After all, musicals like Little Women and The Secret Garden accomplish this literature-to-musical translation in condensed yet coherent vehicles.) However, this Three Musketeers is so burdened by its plots that the characters' motivations are unclear and even seem to shift within individual songs.
There is hardly room to give the entire ambitious plot, but here is the rough outline. Set in France (and moving back and forth to England), the story begins with D'Artagnan, a strapping young man out for adventure, who meets the notorious Three Musketeers: Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. The four quickly join forces to defeat four of Cardinal Richelieu's guards in an action-packed duel. They vow "all for one and one for all" and continue to protect and defend one another throughout the show.
Rivalry emerges between England and France when Queen Anne falls in love with England's Duke of Buckingham, and Cardinal Richelieu plots to expose her infidelity to King Louis XIII. D'Artagnan and the Musketeers save the day, of course, and the rest of the show concerns love won and lost, secret identities, indiscretions, assassinations, retribution, and, finally, hope for young D'Artagnan's future.
In the first act, the production flaunts self-referential comments and shtick reminiscent of Monty Python's new Spamalot musical. D'Artagnan jokingly swings in on a rope of white sheets, phallic sword jokes abound, and two of the Musketeers try to outdo each other by singing a note the longest (a bit like Annie Get Your Gun's "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better"). The first act ends with the production number "What I Shall Do!," which is not unlike the Les Mis