One for All!

The players in Gaslight's latest stand out over the production in its totality

At a theater where the scripts can have more holes than Prairie Dog Town, Gaslight Theatre's latest musical melodrama has only one gaping absence, an unforgivable lost opportunity: The bitter, limping Phillippe, twin brother to King Louis XIV of France, is being prepared by evil forces to seize the throne, but not once does he break into "Great Pretender."

Really, what is Gaslight coming to when the bad guys miss a chance to turn into The Platters for three minutes?

Otherwise, Peter Van Slyke's adaptation of The Three Musketeers trips along smartly enough. It's not one of Van Slyke's funniest, most out-of-control shows, but it doesn't fall with a thud as if skewered by the Musketeers themselves. What this production has going for it most of all is an ensemble that swings through the show with an infectious joy. They may not have a lot to work with, but they're having tremendous fun.

Van Slyke has raided a couple of Dumas sources, particularly the novel The Man in the Iron Mask, and cast aside a great deal of detail and turned at least one situation upside-down to concoct a show that is less spoof than comic condensation. Young King Louis XIV's Machiavellian adviser, here called Roquefort, has for 20 years kept hidden in an iron mask Louis' slightly younger twin brother, Phillippe. With the help of Milady DeWinter, who is facilitating a treaty with the treacherous English, Roquefort plans to pull the ol' switcheroo, seizing power by putting Phillippe on the throne as a figurehead and casting Louis forever into a remote dungeon.

It's up to the Musketeers to foil this scheme and protect the rightful king of France, meanwhile enabling him to marry the fetching Princess Isabella of Spain. Veteran Musketeers Aramis and Porthos are joined by fiery young Musketeer-in-training D'artagnan in their efforts.

If you've seen many Gaslight productions, you know that sooner or later (actually, near the top of the show), somebody is going to pull out a Three Musketeers bar and make a snide reference to the physique of portly Porthos; that someone will burst in with the good news that he just saved 15 percent with Geico; and that the villain will be so outrageously villainous that the audience can't help but boo his every pronouncement. What you might not quite expect, at least not specifically, is for D'artagnan to break into a certain Barry Manilow song, here delivered as "I Right the Wrongs," and what you have no way of anticipating is that when the king and the princess smooch, a little kid in the audience might loudly exclaim "Yuck!" But you would rightly expect such an outburst to trigger a bit of ad-libbing on stage.

Our Musketeers really do seem to like what they're doing. Dan Gunther as Aramis is his usual steady, professional self, but the most fun is being had by Robert Shaw as D'artagnan and Rob Lawson Jr. as Porthos. They don't break character, at least not this early in the run, but they clearly get a kick out of their bits of swordplay and exclamations of "All for one, and one for all!"

Similarly, Betsy Kruse-Craig obviously relishes the role of Milady DeWinter. There's honestly not much reason for this character to be here, but Kruse-Craig struts and smirks as if she owns the show, and she basically does own it whenever she's on stage. David Orley pushes the role of Roquefort about as far as it can reasonably go, coming off pretty much as Dr. Evil with a big wig and a French accent.

On the night I attended, Joe Cooper seemed a little more subdued--or is that merely under control?--than usual in his customary role as the bad guy's henchman, and Maria Alburtus as D'artagnan's love interest and Rhonda Cherry Holmes as the princess didn't have much to do besides look attractive, but the latter's lisping Spanish accent was a hoot.

Those two women come into their own after the main show in the olio, the little revue mixing songs and comedy blackouts. The theme this time is Laverne and Shirley, and it's more than a little disturbing for these people in 2006 to wax nostalgic over a 1970s TV show that capitalized on that period's late-'50s/early-'60s nostalgia. It all seems so second-hand.

Nevertheless, Alburtus in particular turns in an outstanding rendition of "Where the Boys Are." Lawson, too, does a terrific comic send-up of the song "Shirley."

All the while, pianist Linda Ackermann and drummer Jonathan Westfall do their usual excellent job in a riot of musical styles, and designers Maryann Trombino and Renée Cloutier have added some more fine specimens to the Gaslight costume shop.

Perhaps it's not surprising that the individual contributors are a little more impressive and enjoyable than the production in its totality. The Musketeers' motto, remember, is "All for one, and one for all." For a change, "one" is not the loneliest number.

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