By Jerome Langston

It was early in my recent phone chat with Tom Quaintance, the Producing Artistic Director of Virginia Stage Company, and award-winning fight director Steve Rankin (pictured above), that I realized how far back their friendship goes. Tom is about to direct VSC’s next show, The Three Musketeers, with Steve along as its fight director, though they are about a week out from the start of rehearsals. The two men apparently worked together as part of the creative team on Broadway’s The Whos Tommy, which premiered in the spring of 1993. Interestingly enough, there is a Broadway revival of Tommy, which begins previews next month.

“Steve was in the first production of VSC ever,” says Tom, shortly after introducing his fight director and friend to me. “I was in a play called Hot Grog, which had a bunch of sword fights in it,” Steve explains. The pirate musical was a very early production for VSC, which is currently still celebrating its momentous 45th season. Tom says that they even have a poster of the show hanging up in their office, to commemorate its history. And in addition to Steve’s early artistic involvement with VSC, he also directed a production of The Three Musketeers for Cape Fear Regional Theatre, when Tom was still its artistic director.

Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers is being produced by VSC, along with NSU Theatre Company. Their fruitful partnership was also responsible for the success of last season’s Henry V, which Tom also directed. Their production of the iconic Shakespeare play was both a commercial and critical hit. Tom felt that Ludwig’s widely produced stage adaptation of the literary classic, would provide opportunities for the partnership to grow, which was a priority for the director.

“Finding something that has great opportunities for NSU Theatre Company members, that’s going to give them opportunities to grow as actors,” says Tom, regarding this play. “And I can’t think of anything better, than to give the young men and women at Norfolk State University Theatre company, the opportunity to work with Steve Rankin.”

“We’ve got a lot of students coming to see it,” adds Tom. “The Three Musketeers is a book that a lot of schools are reading.” Or has of course read — at some point.

A historical adventure novel written by French writer, Alexandre Dumas, which was published back in 1844, The Three Musketeers is one of the most popular novels ever written, of its genre. It’s hard to imagine anyone past grade school who isn’t familiar with the story. The novel captures the swashbuckling adventures of D’Artagnan, a young man who travels to Paris in 1625, to become a musketeer and guard to the King. On his journey, he meets the three musketeers — Athos, Aramis and Porthos, and various drama, romance, and epic adventure ensues.

The classic story has been adapted for the stage, film, TV, video games, and most other forms of media, over the many years following its literary debut. It was turned into a successful musical that debuted on Broadway in 1928, though a 1984 revival of the show was a huge flop. Ludwig’s adaptation debuted in 2006 at the Bristol Ol Vic. His version, which is the one being produced at VSC, adds D’Artagnan’s sister, Sabine, to the adventure.

“We’ve got a really fantastic cast,” says Tom, a bit later. And that cast includes NSU Theatre’s Adam Moskowitz, who plays the lead role of D’Artagnan, Shad Ramsey as Athos, Lauren Wilkerson as Sabine, and Brandon Bradley as Porthos. Tom states that there are 18 people in the cast. Remarkably, due to a truncated schedule, Steve will have to stage all of the fight scenes in just about a week of rehearsal.

“I have been rehearsing and plotting these fights since last November or December,” says Steve. “Because there are about 12 encounters that happen in this piece.” It helps that he has a team of fight experts, who are also in the cast, including Jason Paul Tate, who plays Rochefort, as well as the previously mentioned Shad Ramsey. “We have a good core of people to help us climb this mountain that we’re gonna have to do, in 6 days of rehearsal,” Steve adds.

Steve Rankin has become a legend in theater circles, for his exceptional career in fight direction. Some of the Broadway shows that he’s recently worked on include Aint Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, and All My Sons, amongst many other works for the stage, over his decades long career, as both director and performer. Steve is very passionate about his craft, and sword fighting specifically, which he explains in significant detail during our chat.

“Usually when people pick up the sword, they think it’s like fencing. And that you’re gonna walk flat, directly at one another,” explains Steve. “And this is not that kind of fight. This is open stance fighting, that’s more like a boxer’s stance. And one person has four feet of steel. The other person has four feet of steel…” He further adds that once he arrives in town for the fight rehearsals, he will then be able to fully assess what his actors are capable of learning within the short timeframe. Their safety is a primary concern for him as the fight director, as is the quality of the sword fighting itself, as it’s a key component of this show.

Steve is also excited to be back in Norfolk. “It’s a great town. It was a great place for Tom to land,” he says, towards the end of our chat. “The community is so fortunate to have somebody with his eye and wisdom and guidance, bringing good theatre back to this community again.”


Ken Ludwig’s  

The Three Musketeers 

March 6-24  

Virginia Stage Company 

with NSU Theatre Company 

Wells Theatre