Book-It Repertory Theatre’s production of Alexandre Dumas père’s The Three Musketeers is better designated as an audiobook than an audio “play.” Book-It’s usual format functions on reinterpreting classic literature for performance while maintaining some tone and style from the original work by incorporating narration. In an audio-only context, Book-It’s elegant style loses its magnetism. The adaptation fails to add something new to Dumas’ original work beyond sound effects and a more contemporary style. And in the swashbuckling world of The Three Musketeers, the audiobook-esque performance falls flat.
Lamar Legend’s adaptation and direction stay true to Dumas’ story. Trick Danneker’s D’Artagnan joins a group of musketeers: “the three inseparables,” Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, played by Porscha Shaw, Nicholas JaPaul Bernard, and Nathaniel Tenenbaum respectively. When his landlord, Bonacieux (John Coons), asks D’Artagnan to find his wife, Constance Bonacieux (Kathy Hsieh), D’Artagnan becomes involved in controversy surrounding the Queen of France (Kate Jaeger) and Duke of Buckingham (Basil Harris). D’Artagnan and the musketeers also meet the femme fatale, Milady de Winter (Kate Jaeger), an agent of Cardinal Richelieu (John Coons).
Though the casts’ performances are rich and expressive, their voices feel static even in some of the most action-packed moments of the production. Part of the magic of in-person productions is that the physicality and vocal quality of the characters work in congruence to create an authentic relationship between movement and speech. The distinctiveness of the actors’ voices make the story easy to follow, but their monotonous uniformity fails to engage. In live, in-person theater, the sound is varied depending on the scene, whereas the voices of the actors in The Three Musketeers sounded like they were standing still next to the microphone, which, for two hours, does not provide much in the way of interest for the audio production.
The play does have some creative wins, however, namely the sound effects. From slashing swords to galloping horses, the sound effects add much-needed dimension to the story. More than any other creative quality of the production, the soundscape creates a stage and a concept of space even without the visual element that theater tends to rely on.
The gender-bent casting of Porscha Shaw as D’Artagnan’s melancholic mentor, Athos, also brings freshness to a classic story. Athos embodies the father archetype: wise, brave, and classically masculine. Shaw’s Athos, a woman, breaks the traditional picture of the character while commanding an enormous amount of respect. She is believable, serious, and steals every scene.
Strong performances and a few creative elements provided an entertaining listening experience, but after almost two years of virtual theater, I was hoping for more than sound effects and a modernized audiobook version of the novel. Perhaps the action-packed story just doesn’t translate well to an audio production. On the other hand, Book-It’s stated goal is “to inspire a love of reading through a live, communal experience.” I might be missing that shared experience—that emotional tension when the actors and audience members are with each other, feeling what the others feel. Although it “reads” as more audiobook than audio play, for those seeking literary inspiration, Book-It’s productions never fail to disappoint. Their The Three Musketeers weaves in the historical and adventure elements of the original story. For lovers of Dumas’ novel, it's a satisfying listening experience, and for others, The Three Musketeers is a classic for a reason with mystery, politics, comedy, spies, and complex characters. Even in the virtual setting, Book-Its’ commitment to an exploration of great literature shines through, but in this particular format, their usually elegant and poetic theater style misses the mark.
The two-part audio book is available on Book-It’s website now until July 3, 2022. For more information see here.