The gulf shore of Florida is the unlikely setting for a June workshop staging of a new musical version of The Three Musketeers, prior to its world premiere in Switzerland in February 2000.
Performances for the new version of the classic Alexandre Dumas, pere, swashbuckler were sold out by the opening, June 10, and continue to June 19 at the University of South Florida's Theatre II in Tampa. There is talk of adding one more performance June 20.
"They're standing and cheering at the end, so the show seems to be doing what it needs to do," said British composer George Stiles, who penned the Cameron Mackintosh-produced London musical, Just So, in 1989.
Stiles, 37, arrived on the USF campus May 9 as part of a visiting artist program and worked with British actor-director Matthew Francis, students and professionals toward the goal of clarifying the show.
The small-scale staging, with Stiles at a lone piano, is allowing Stiles, librettist Peter Raby (drawing on his play version of the story) and future orchestrator, William Brohn (Ragtime), to assess the work to date and be better prepared for December-January rehearsals. Written with lyricist Paul Leigh, who was not able to attend the workshop process, the musical is to have its multimillion dollar world premiere in St. Gallen, Switzerland. The book and lyrics for the Swiss staging will be in German.
The hope is that the Swiss production will generate interest from producers and theatre owners for an English-language production.
Stiles told Playbill On-Line that process in Florida has been "enormously helpful" in strengthening the script and score. "There were a couple of things changed at the last minute -- further cuts, a couple of plot clarifications," Stiles said.
"The big work has happened over the last three days," he said on June 15. "Bill Brohn came down from New York and Peter Raby came out from England. We've addressed what we think to be the outstanding areas of difficulty."
The show has been heard in various private readings and in a major musical theatre competition and subsequent concert tour. A new song for the show premiered in Tampa: Constance and d'Artagnan sing "Doing Very Well (Without You)"
A first draft of The Three Musketeers was written by 1995. It was a runner-up in a Danish musical theatre competition in 1996 and had a popular concert tour in Denmark in 1997, with Danish narration and English lyrics.
A CD of the musical is available in specialty shops under the title "Winner's Night Musical of the Year, 1996," reflecting the Danish competition.
The show has been "re-drafted" four or five times since 1995, Stiles said.
Francis, a British actor-director who worked with the University of Florida's British exchange program and knew Stiles' work, invited the composer, on behalf of the theatre department, to work on the project in the quiet humidity of Tampa. The production, although a "workshop" (but not a New York-style workshop as defined by Actors' Equity) includes a set, costumes, lighting and sound effects in the 200-seat theatre.
A rewritten version of Stiles' Just So, with lyricist Anthony Drewe, opens in March 2000 at the Young Vic in London in association with Mackintosh. The same version was seen fall 1998 at Goodspeed-at-Chester in Connecticut. It originally played at the Tricycle Theatre in England, in 1989, in association with Mackintosh.
Stiles and Leigh's other musicals are Tom Jones and Moll Flanders.
For University of South Florida Theatre ticket information, call (813) 974-2323.
-- By Kenneth Jones