There’s a bit of history behind this first ever musical at the Rose: Peter Raby’s stage version has been seen in Stratford, Ontario, and elsewhere; composer George Stiles and lyricist and Paul Leigh joined in later; and now director Francis Matthews has chipped in with more book tweaks.
Matthews has also assembled a pretty good cast, but the narrative distillation of the thud and blunder novel by Alexandre Dumas remains muddy: the story of the Queen’s diamonds and Milady’s deviousness is levered into a show that otherwise seems, hélas, like an over-strenuous, curiously uninspired follow-up to both Les Misérables and Martin Guerre.
Our hero, the Gascon country boy D’Artagnan (Michael Pickering), who is seeking adventure and a commission in the hot French summer of 1625, comes “Riding to Paris” with the rest of the cast pawing the ground like fire-breathing stallions: splendid locomotion in this number, but it’s not very long before inertia sets in with the audience no doubt whispering “giddy up, old gal” under their collective breaths.
Stiles’ score is professionally composed and some of the ballads and duets have a pleasing architecture; but it never really sparks, even at its most stirring, in the musketeers’ brotherhood song, “Count Me In,” or the foot-stomping chorale, “The Life of a Musketeer.” No fault of the actors: Matt Rawle’s Aramis, Paul Thornley’s Athos and Hal Fowler’s Porthos are all well-observed, well-contrasted portraits in lock-shaking caballero mode.
And C J Johnson’s statuesque Milady and Kaisa Hammarlund’s sweet-natured Constance, D’Artagnan’s lover, both have their moments. Too often, though, you ask yourself the question: why are they doing this? And Simon Higlett once again demonstrates the difficulty of designing in this theatre, building a great big Sean Kenny-style beamed edifice that is hardly used and does nothing much except fill up some of the space.
“A Good Old Fashioned War” second act opener seems to have come in from another show altogether, and eventually you’re not even sorry to see the “Riding to Paris” jig-along reprised, the company melding at last, and again, into what I believe is known as “an organic ensemble,” but one that could be appearing in anything. Good musical direction by Ian Townsend, the musicians strung across the top of the theatre like fairy lights.