You gotta love Tucson. One night, you can settle into comfortable chairs at the historic Temple of Music and Art and watch a production of an intellectually dense play about art and artists; the next evening, you can take your seat at a small table stacked with baskets of popcorn to watch heroes and villains who break into song and dance every three minutes and encourage boos and cheers from the audience of all ages.
Both bits of theatrical entertainment are very well done.
The latter, of course, is typical Gaslight Theatre fare, this time entitled The Three Musketeers. The Gaslight has been pleasing audiences in Tucson for almost 35 years, with good reason: It's one of the best entertainment packages in town—and one that the whole family can enjoy together. In addition to sing-alongs, that free popcorn and a two-act play—written by Gaslight personnel—there is always an additional offering, a musical olio featuring songs related to a specific theme. These actors and musicians get a good workout every night, and we always feel like we get our money's worth.
The Gaslight's version of The Three Musketeers is very loosely inspired by the Alexandre Dumas novel. We are introduced to the three valiant dudes, Aramis (Todd Thompson), Porthos (Sean MacArthur) and D'Artagnan (Jake Chapman), who have been called to a secret room beneath King Louis XIII's palace. (Different actors rotate into the parts for some performances.) The king finally has an heir, and he wants the trio to ensure the safety of the little guy, especially because Prime Minister Roquefort (David Orley, Gaslight's resident villain) and his henchman, Gizzard (Joe Cooper, Gaslight's resident, well, fool), are searching for a way to weasel their way into controlling all of France.
But an unusual discovery is made: There was not just one heir born—there were two, twin boys, Louis and Phillipe. Because Louis was born first, he will be groomed to become king. But Roquefort has a squinty-eyed, mustache-twirling eee-veeel plan. He kidnaps the younger twin, clamps him in an iron mask so his identity will be concealed, and lets him know that he is the rightful king—and that Roquefort will ensure that he will not be cast aside. Thus, Phillipe will owe Roquefort big-time, and Roquefort will become master of France.
But wait! There are musketeers around, so don't bet that eee-veeel will win the day. When the twins come of age, and the great switcheroo is to take place, the good guys are bound to find a way to set things right.
Of course, there's plenty of opportunity here for puns and double-entendres and clever silliness—along with the cheap variety of silliness, too. Yes, there are jokes about Three Musketeers candy bars and even Mickey Mouse and his youthful Mouseketeers gang, whose theme song is playfully rewritten with our heroes in mind. Anachronisms abound, like references to Facebook, hardly a handy means of keeping in touch in the 1600s. But that's all part of the fun.
This is a familiar Gaslight crew, and they've got the shtick down solid. They are a talented group of performers, and although their acting requires not the least bit of subtlety, they excel at what they do—and they are quite impressive singers. When Maria Alburtus, as Milady DeWinter, lets 'er rip—all corseted in her brocade gown and 2-foot-tall blond powdered wig—we can't help but be a little blown away, not just by her comedic prowess, but also by her outstanding voice. As Princess Isabella from Spain, Sarah Vanek, who also serves as the show's choreographer, is hilarious as she sings of her ill-fated loves in a reworked version of "Stupid Cupid." Including Tarreyn Van Slyke as a Lady in Waiting, the female trio's version of "Lady Marmalade" is a stitch.
Joe Hubbard plays the dual roles of Princes Louis—or Prince Woo-ie, as he pronounces it due to an unfortunate speech impediment—and Phillipe, which requires some tricky logistics that he executes quite well, providing a lot of laughs.
It's obvious that much of the production budget went into the elaborate 17th-century costumes. Although Tom Benson's sets are OK, they're not quite as elaborate as usual, even if they do feature his fine scenic painting. But Renee Cloutier's costumes are quite wonderful in all their period silliness. The wigs almost become characters themselves.
The contributions of musical director Linda Ackermann and her side men, Blake Matthies and Jon Westfall, cannot be underestimated, especially for the American Bandstand tribute after the curtain has gone down on The Three Musketeers. (This show has been running since the end of March, so this is a serendipitous nod to Dick Clark's demise.) Really, I think there are more laughs to be enjoyed in this part of the evening's entertainment than in the play. I dare you not to swoon as Todd Thompson becomes Roy Orbison singing "Pretty Woman." But it's Joe Cooper's embodiment of Bob Dylan that is the cherry atop this variety-show confection. He rocks—in an absolutely Dylan-esque sort of way.
So there. In a matter of mere hours, your theatrical fare in the Old Pueblo can range from the ridiculous to the sublime. But I'm not going to say which is which. Judge for yourself.