Manhattan Arts Center Theatre’s “the show must go on” 2020-2021 season launched its final pandemic-year presentation, Ken Ludwig’s 2006 stage adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s “The Three Musketeers,” this past Friday evening in the Grosh Performance Hall. Final week shows: April 30-May 2. Limited tickets available.

What better way, I ask you, to honor Shakespeare’s birthday than with a spot of live theater? Never mind that you’re not celebrating with something grand by the Bard himself. It doesn’t have to be the best champagne on earth to justify popping the cork.

Ludwig’s scaling down of Dumas’s massive 750-page novel to a 2-hour play can’t possibly either do justice to the sweep and sprawl of the book or stitch together from its swarm of detail a coherently structured drama. There’s just too much plot in the original to act out, and trying — as Ludwig does — to include so much of it leads to packing way too many jumpy scenic snippets of fragmented story bits into an evening’s entertainment.

Fortunately, the play isn’t that much about paying homage to Dumas’s lengthy yarn. Instead, it’s more a loud, rowdy, and yes, swashbuckling affirmation of the spirit of derring-do that shouts “All for one and one for all!”

At least that’s the message “General” Penny Cullers’ small but mighty army of able thespians collaborated in voicing.

Diverse as well, they were, but for all their differences they carried one gift in common — swords, and more importantly swordsmanship. Over the years I’ve seen lots of swordplay on many stages, some it choreographed by celebrity coaches, and I found the level of simulated combat in Friday’s show amazing, both individually and collectively. I scanned the program in vain for a fight coach credit. Whoever it was, and it had to be someone because actors don’t just improvise swordplay that good on their own, deserves an exclusive round of applause. In fact, it’s so astonishing it justifies the price of admission all on its own.

Every bit the measure of the sword skills and equally worth seeing up close were the costumes, especially those of the musketeers themselves.

Even D’Artagnan gets his own specially tailored full-member uniform to don in the closing moments. MAC’s costume design and construction team really outdid themselves on this production.

Given the splintered rush of events being depicted, the design of lighting and sound programs had to be more than usually busy and their execution correspondingly more demanding. That it all went off glitch free (so far as I could tell) is a tribute to this support staff’s competence. But I have to register my regret that the splendid captioning introduced in the last show was missing. What with the need to keep masking and the muffling of speech that occasions, the visible assist really helped convey the script.

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably noticed that except for a single reference, I’ve taken no notice of anyone by name. Please understand this as acknowledgement of the “e pluribus unum” achievement via the multifarious gifts of too many individuals to list here.

Finally, much as we wish to see the backside of this deadly pandemic, we should also never forget our debt of gratitude to MAC Theatre for keeping performing arts alive through it all. We owe you our thanks.

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