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In the fading light of fall, a swash-buckling adventure livens up the stage at the Flat Rock Playhouse.
Propelled by youthful exuberance and enough wicked trickery to fill a political campaign, The Three Musketeers succeeds by not taking itself too seriously. Lisa K. Bryant, the 20-year Vagabond who returned to the Playhouse this summer after three years as theater director at North Henderson High School, makes her Main Stage directorial debut. Bryant and fight choreographer Michael MacCauley have crafted a show that's fast-paced, entertaining and fun.
The production blends a cast of 23 who represent Vagabond talent spanning four decades. Ralph Redpath, a 42-year veteran of this stage, is aptly devious as Cardinal Richelieu, the shamelessly corrupt church leader who is trying to undercut the king. Barbara Bradshaw, who debuted here in 1976, plays five roles, well done as always. Scott Treadway plays three roles, including one of his patented comic death scenes.
Add the newly minted apprentice grads to the mix and the show blossoms with energy and depth.
The play opens as D'Artagnan (2013 apprentice Jeff Sundheim) sets off for Paris from the country town of Gascony in 1625. His father gives him a good sword, parting advice and an "old and wobbly" horse named Buttercup.
It doesn't take long for Buttercup to get D'Artagnan in trouble. We first meet Rochefort, who ridicules Buttercup as a worthless yellow beast that might be better put to use as a lady's hat. The impetuous D'Artagnan can't bear the insults to the beloved nag, and their argument escalates into the challenge of a duel to settle matters. Twenty minutes into the play, D'Artagnan has managed to provoke two more swordsmen and committed to duels to settle the disputes at 10 o'clock, 11 o'clock and midnight behind the Luxembourg Palace. Oh, and he also has arranged a rendezvous with the girl he's fallen for at 1 a.m., same place.
Sundheim brings a freshness and energy to the leading role, and he has great comedic chemistry with Catharine Kay, who plays his sister. Another graduate of this summer's apprentice class, Kay plays Sabine with flair and confidence. She can't wait to go to Paris because "there's not much for a girl to do in 17th century France." Anything her big brother can do she can do better, she brags, and we soon find out just how valuable and fearless she is as the musketeers battle the evil Cardinal.
And what a performance Bryant has coaxed out of Hendersonville native Andrew Hampton Livingston. As King Louis XIII, Livingston blossoms into a fully realized comic actor. Livingston's King Louis is anxious. He is hyper. He is mixed up and unsure of himself but thanks to one last heroic rescue by to D'Artagnan and the musketeers, the king is saved and so is his marriage to Queen Anne, played by Erin Mosher.
Rebecca Morris, as Milady, the Cardinal's co-conspirator in the plot to overthrow the crown, is a very convincing villain. I was disappointed that the audience failed to break into loud cheers when Sabine finishes her off late in the second act.
Time and again, the musketeers prevail against long odds as they out-fence Rochefort and his trusty second Basille, played by Michael Luwoye, another recent apprentice graduate.
MacCauley brings gravitas to the role of Athos, the leader of the three musketeers. One's a fashion-plate, the other wants to be a priest (while he's also Sabine's love interest). His righteousness and maturity make for a good counterweight to the reckless enthusiasm of our young hero.
There's enough double-crossing for a knitting convention and enough sword fighting fun to fill a shelf of Zorro comic books. D'Artagnan wins his Musketeer cape and the brave fighters live to fight another day — "one for all, and all for one."
The audience can sense the fun the actors are having on stage. The fun's contagious.
Bill Moss is editor of the Hendersonville Lightning.