About the Playwrights: Ken Ludwig and Alexandre Dumas

By Vanessa Hunt

With a history of six shows on Broadway and seven shows on London’s West End, Ken Ludwig is no stranger to the theatre scene. His credits include two Laurence Olivier awards, the Helen Hayes award, the Edgar Award for Best Mystery from the Mystery Writers of America, the Southeastern Theatre Conference Distinguished Career Award, and the Edwin Forrest Award for Services to the Theatre. Ludwig is best known for his first play, Lend Me a Tenor, which won three Tony awards out of nine nominations. (The Utah Shakespeare Festival also produced a musical adaption, Lend Me a Tenor: the Musical, in 2007.) His plays have also been commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Bristol Old Vic. Other works are Crazy for You (a Tony and Olivier awards winner for Best Musical), Moon Over Buffalo, Leading Ladies, Twentieth Century, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Game’s Afoot, The Fox on the Fairway, Midsummer/Jersey, Treasure Island, and The Three Musketeers.

Ken Ludwig was born on March 15, 1950 in York, Pennsylvania. His father was a doctor, and his mother was a former Broadway chorus girl. From birth, Broadway was a part of his life. While attending Harvard, Ludwig had the opportunity to study music under the tutelage of Leonard Bernstein. He also studied theatre history at Cambridge University. Ludwig practiced law for several years, on top of writing twenty-two plays and musicals.

With many successful shows under his belt, Ludwig was commissioned by the Bristol Old Vic in London to adapt a play based on Alexandre Dumas’s timeless story of heroism, treachery, and honor, The Three Musketeers. The show was to open in December of 2006 and run for eight weeks during the Christmas season. The play’s world premiere was December 6, 2006, and it opened to rave reviews. The play does not follow Dumas’s story exactly, but rather Ludwig capitalizes on the spirit of romantic adventure found in the original story and then makes it his own in adaptation. (The most noticeable change is the addition of a new character, D’Artagnan’s kid sister, Sabine.)

As a prolific French historian, playwright, and author, Alexandre Dumas is best known for two stories, The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. They are timeless classics that most audiences are familiar with, whether they have read the stories or not. Born July 24, 1802 in a small village outside of Paris, Alexandre Dumas was the son of a military general under Napoleon. His father was imprisoned after criticizing Napoleon’s Egypt campaign, and soon after being released he died of poor health, leaving Alexandre to be cared for by his mother. She worked to provide an education for her son, but Alexandre was not particularly fond of formal education and soon found work with a local notary. Then, in 1822, he left for Paris and found a love for the literary world. He was an avid reader of the works of Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott.

After arriving in Paris, Dumas was hired as a scribe for the duc d’Orleans, later King Louis Philippe. Dumas became a scholar within the world of playwriting and learned from and collaborated with many of the notable playwrights of the time. His earliest works included the plays Henry III and His Court, The Tower of Nesle, Kean, and Antony. He was one of the first writers of the new Romantic movement, publishing works alongside his friend and rival Victor Hugo. Dumas’s works were a breath of fresh air compared to the Neoclassic works that were so often found on the stages of Paris.

While Dumas found success in Paris, he came down with a bout of cholera in 1832 during a widespread epidemic. His physician ordered him to leave Paris and take a tour of Europe, resulting in his visiting many countries, including Austria, the Netherlands, Spain, England, and Germany. During his travels, he kept impeccable records, which he then published in a series of short stories, novels, and essays.

As he continued to travel around Europe, Dumas began writing his trilogy known as the d’Artagnan Romances, which included The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte of Braglonne: Ten Years Later. The first and most popular novel of the series, The Three Musketeers, came about as Dumas was researching the history of Louis XIV. Dumas supposedly found manuscripts in the National Library of France which detailed the events of the life of the captain of the Musketeers of the Guard under Louis XIV, Charlies Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d’Artagnan, on whom Dumas then based his main character. The Three Musketeers was set in 1625 and was first published in the magazine Le Siecle between March and July 1844. In creating The Three Musketeers, Dumas collaborated with Auguste Maquet, whom he initially began collaborating with in 1837. This led to more collaborations with other authors, although they mainly offered suggestions for plots, while Dumas did the rest of the work, filling in the actual details of the stories.

With the success of The Three Musketeers, Dumas followed up with his novel The Count of Monte Cristo and solidified his position as one of, if not the, greatest writers of the nineteenth century. Financially set, Dumas looked for a place of solitary so that he could concentrate on his writing. He relocated to Port Marly, Yvelines, France where he built the Chateau de Monte Cristo. He frequently enjoyed entertaining guests at his home, but soon his spending became too great and he was forced to sell Chateau de Monte Cristo due to his increasing debt. To avoid creditors, he fled to Brussels, Belgium in 1851. While there, he published many more works, known as his Valois Romances, which included his autobiography.

Alexandre Dumas died December 5, 1870 at his son’s villa in Puys, near Dieppe, France, not long after a scandalous liaison with an American circus girl. He was initially buried in the cemetery of Villers-Collerets, but in 2002, his remains were moved to the Pantheon in Paris, resting amongst other literary greats such as Emile Zola and Victor Hugo.

While Alexandre Dumas had over 1,200 published works to his name, The Three Musketeers will forever remain one of his greatest accomplishments. This is evidenced by the scores of adaptations that continue to be created with Dumas’s story as the focal point. With the creation of the stage version of Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of Dumas’s classic, it is plain to see that The Three Musketeers is still relevant in today’s society. In an article from kenludwig.com, when asked about how he measures the success of this play, Ludwig responded by saying, “I want the audience to come out feeling exhilarated. I want them to feel that they’ve taken part in one of the great stories of all time—that they’ve laughed, been frightened, cried—felt a part of this magnificent world that Dumas created; and I want them to feel that they enjoyed every second of it.”