While a hit like "Cats" proves that there's no such thing as a bad idea for a musical, some ideas are definitely less good than others.

While a hit like “Cats” proves that there’s no such thing as a bad idea for a musical, some ideas are definitely less good than others. Step forward “The Three Musketeers.” Refreshingly uncynical though this swashbuckler is, its pleasing music, high spirits and good heart cannot disguise the surfeit of plot and paucity of drama.

The book, which cleaves to the original story, is chiefly to blame. Granted, not every tuner has to maintain high dramatic stakes throughout, but Peter Raby and Francis Matthews’ adaptation of Dumas’s novel fails to make its mind up as to how high the stakes should be. Is this a comedy confection or a passionate tale of love and duty? It’s trying to be both.

At the start, young hero D’Artagnan (Michael Pickering) is so absurdly naive he risks being considered simple-minded. That leads the audience to dismiss rather than actually engage with him. Yet at other times, his plight demands audience sympathy. Yet without that truly being earned, it’s hard to care.

The odds are against it from the get-go, largely due to an over-egged plot of crosses and double-crosses from too large a cast. Squeezing so much in means that scenes are underwritten and little is satisfyingly hard-won.

The title suggest the trio at the heart of the piece. Yet they’re actually swaggering, middle-ranking characters, barely differentiated – a fault that cannot be laid at the actors’ door. It’s really the story of D’Artagnan’s and, principally, that of him falling in with Constance, played by a spry yet sweetly relaxed Kaisa Hammarlund in the night’s stand-out performance.

Complicating matters further there’s also supercilious Rochefort (nicely vicious but woefully underused Mark Meadows) and the wicked Milady (C.J. Johnson). The latter appears to switch sides so many times it’s hard to follow. Her singing is increasingly impassioned but her role offers too much display and not enough engagement.

Francis Matthews’ production has boisterousness but lacks drive. Simon Higlett’s standing set has ropes and ladders and walkways galore, but little of it is effectively used.

The two most rousing numbers “A Good Old-Fashioned War” and “The Life Of A Musketeer” really deliver. Composer George Stiles has a nice ear for a gratifyingly old-fashioned tune and can really fill out a harmony. But in staging terms, the well-executed dynamism of these two numbers shows up what’s missing elsewhere. For the rest of the time, Georgina Lamb’s choreography delivers neatly illustrative movement but without punchy punctuation shaping the energy, her work merely proceeds when you wish it was building in excitement.

That, sad to say, is true of the show as a whole. Currently playing a season at Kingston’s Rose Theater, it’s aiming for future West End life. A major rewrite is needed to lift it from being merely diverting into satisfying entertainment.

The Three Musketeers

Rose Theater, Kingston, U.K.; 899 seats; £32 $50 top

Production

A Rose Theater in association with Bud Martin presentation of a musical in two acts, music by George Stiles, lyrics by Paul Leigh, book by Peter Raby with Francis Matthews from an original concept by William Hobbs based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Directed by Francis Matthews. Musical direction, Ian Townsend; choreography, Georgina Lamb.

Creative

Sets, Simon Higlett; costumes, Mark Bouman; lighting, Tim Mitchell; sound, Mike Waller for Loh Humm Audio Co. Ltd.; fight direction, Malcolm Ranson; orchestrations, David Shrubsole musical supervision, George Stiles and Shrubsole; production stage manager, Jason Benterman. Opened, review Dec. 3, 2010. Running time: 2 HOURS, 45 MIN. With Michael Camp, Christopher D. Hunt, Iain Fletcher, Kirsty Hoiles, James Lailey, Matthew McKenna, Amanda Minihan, Peter Moreton, Jake Samuels, Chris Thatcher, Marcello Walton, Sally Whitehead.

Cast

D'Artagnan - Michael Pickering
Constance - Kaisa Hammarlund
Aramis - Matt Rawle
Athos - Paul Thornley
Porthos - Hal Howler
Milday - C.J. Johnson
Rochefort - Mark Meadows
Planchet - Ben Heathcote
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