That painful moniker is just a portent of the three — oops, I mean 3hree — hours’ dull throbbing pain to be had in “The 3hree Musketeers,” a long-gestating musical hellbent on making the Frank Wildhorn canon look like an oasis of vivid personality. Too generic in character to rate as a guilty-pleasure disaster, this U.S. premiere (following umpteen revisions and workshops) is truly creamed corn — with unappetizing looks, pre-chewed texture and bland taste to match. Music-theater pap can indeed sell, but in this instance there isn’t even a viable tail wagging the dog.
General cluelessness is apparent even before the evening officially begins, as commedia-masked ensemble players execute some tepid clowning and acrobatics (with de rigueur audience participation) while patrons take seats. In a cute but entirely irrelevant touch, the last aud member reluctantly dragged onstage turns out — after he’s suited up and houselights dim — to be our D’Artagnan (Jim Stanek).
Greenhorn protag leaves his parents and rural home for Paris, bearing a letter of introduction he hopes will win entree to the King’s prestigious Musketeer corps. En route, however, his naivete and bluster manage to offend various hoitier types, from power-mad Cardinal Richelieu’s flunky Rochefort (Jonathan Rhys Williams) to the carousing titular figures (Alton Fitzgerald White, Fred Inkley and Robert Mammana as Athos, Porthos and Aramis, respectively). Impressed by the newbie’s pluck, latter trio decide to spare D’Artagnan the duels he’s scheduled back to back, soon embracing him as an honorary fourth.
Meanwhile, not-so-bright Louis XIII (Tyler McGee) has allowed Richelieu (James Carpenter) and his guards to usurp the Musketeers’ customary crown-protective role — leaving the Cardinal free to plot against Spanish-born Queen Anne (Elizabeth Ann Campisi), a potential whistle-blower. He conspires to expose her “affair” with England’s Duke of Buckingham (Tim Fullerton), though in fact nothing untoward has passed between them.
But the principal Musks and D’Artagnan sniff out this scheme. Richelieu dispatches Rochefort and the duplicitous Milady de Winter (Rachel deBenedet) to foil these do-gooders by whatever means necessary, with a piece of royal jewelry becoming the plot’s much-pursued MacGuffin.
Despite a fairly brisk pace, Peter Raby’s book flattens all this intrigue in a flavorless, journeyman approach that recalls Disney’s blah live-action 1950s adaptations of similar classic adventures. Quotidian dialogue is matched by Paul Leigh’s often ill-cadenced lyrics. The rare bright lines bob in an ocean of stuporous cliches.Nor is music by George Stiles (who collaborated with Leigh on prior tuners “Moll Flanders” and “Tom Jones,” finding greater success on his own with London hit “Honk!”) any help. Whether it’s being “rousing,” plaintive or whatever, score comes off as nuevo-poperetta wallpaper, a characterless reprise of ideas from the already self-cannibalizing Lloyd Webber and Boublil-Schonberg ouevres.
Inability to raise a pulse or find a distinguishing tone blankets the enterprise. John B. Wilson’s set of moveable platforms and stairs, painted in tacky faux-wood brown streaks, suggests simple economizing rather than any period or conceptual tilt. Elizabeth Poindexter’s costumes add a little color, if no imagination.
Director Dianna Shuster keeps things moving, but busyness is no substitute for originality: Pedestrian fight choreography (Richard Lane), tepid dances (Dottie Lester-White) and a few misguided poor-theater conceits (ensemble members trot around bent-over to play horsy, then hold sticks aloft to become a “forest”) are hardly the stuff of theatrical magic.
Show’s literal-minded mediocrity leaves a variably able (if vocally competent) cast with precious little to chew on. Stanek makes a bland, boyish hero; his Musketeer comrades try to project savoir faire, but script barely distinguishes one from another. A charmless Campisi can do nothing with the Queen’s sodden laments. DeBenedet is directed to play de Winter as a stock woman-scorned vixen, even when her poor-little-me seduction song (“Lilacs”) practically screams for campy winkage.
Show’s sole stab at sardonic wit rests on narrator/con man/manservant Planchet, played with considerable flair by Christian Borle. But latter is mostly stuck filling in the historical-background gaps (in numbers actually titled “Exposition I,” “Exposition II,” etc.). His big number, “A Good Old Fashioned War,” is a tame Brecht-Weill derivation that’s wholly out of place here — yet amid so much irony-free banality, it emerges as the night’s showstopper by default.
Workshopped from 1994 onward in London, Denmark, Switzerland and various Stateside locales, tuner’s origins go back even farther to project instigator Raby’s 1968 nonsinging Dumas adaptation, a long-term rep staple.