CHESS the Musical

Posted By Brie Austin In Category: On Stage , Reviews

Chess the musical, directed by Rod A. Lansberry opened yesterday night for its limited run at the newly opened Lone Tree Arts Center to what appeared to be a wait-and-see crowd.

When the U.S. and Russian Chess champions meet in Italy — for the World Championship match set during the Cold War, with their respective entourages in tow — love, romance, ambition and greed are leveraged and played like pawns by two geo-political machines.

One Night in Bangkok

The Tim Rice inspired musical, for which he wrote the lyrics, was a hit during its long run in London’s West End of London back in the 1980s, that spawned the hit single: One Night In Bangkok. But then, with some changes to the show, it did not fare as well on Broadway. Tonight’s production was inspired by the London version, and was a solid performance by the entire cast … with moments of spectacular!

CHESS is such a powerful and brilliant set of lyrics and music, that performers don’t so much use the songs to spotlight themselves. They are more like vehicles through which the raw and emotional message of CHESS is delivered.

CHESS, the Musical

In ACT I, Sydney James Harcourt (The Arbiter) opens the show with an explanation as to the origins of the game Chess during the middle ages. Thereafter two modern men in trench coats and fedoras stand on opposite ends of a Chess board, representing a Spy Vs. Spy scenario by where the powers-that-be are really in control of the game that the champions are to play. When the brash American Freddie (Gregg Goodbrod) throws a temper-tantrum and storms out of the match, it sets the stage for his manager and sometimes lover, Florence (Lisa Karlin), to find herself in a one-on-one meeting with Anatoli (Tally Sessions), where the two experience an attraction between them.

Sydney James Harcourt, Gregg Goodbrod, and Lisa Karlin early on bring the play to life through their vocal talents, although the cavalier Freddie and annoyed Florence are not an ideal perfect pair (vocally) in their duets. Tally Sessions’ (Anatoli) character — as the Russian chess master — is fittingly reserved and far less animated, as is the low-key Stephan Day (Molokov; Anatoli’s manager — and a KGB operative). Meagan Van De Hey (Svetlana; Anatoli’s wife) is barely noticed.

With a curved staircase on either end of the stage — rising to meet on a recessed second level (that at times would slide forward or backward) –, along with a slow-turning area of the main floor center stage, the visual was simple, yet dynamic and effective, complimented with a well-executed choreography, good costumes and good use of the space available.

The first crowd-stirring song of the night was delivered by Florence near the end of the Act 1 with “Heaven Help My Heart,” followed by the equally moving closing number “Anthem” by Anatoli, who let down the barriers of his reserve to passionately reveal the man that resides within, who until now had been hidden behind his cool unemotional exterior. With these two numbers, the the wait-and-see audience seemed to suddenly awaken and become engaged.

ACT II opens with a good performance by the company, led by The Arbiter (who brings a playful and casual personality to a cast of drama-laden characters), with the uptempo pop-hit “One Night In Bangkok.”

In the heartfelt love duo “You and I” (by Anoltoli and Florence), Talley Sessions and Lisa Karlin complement one another vocally and emotionally with an inspiring delivery. Near the end of Act II they rise to yet another level in a reprise that is beautifully done.

Molokov, whose presence has been mostly low-key in the shadows, is a consistent and sinister character played well by Stephan Day, and has a moment to shine with his strong base voice during a fun number with his Soviet cronies in “The Soviet Machine.”

In mid-Act II, the reserved and dutiful wife — and loyal Russian patriot — Svetlana’s frustration begins to crack her quiet demeanor.  Her frustration and pain for being cast aside for Anatoli’s love for Florence [and subsequently left alone in Russia while he defects to England] is laid bare on the stage, as she sings “Someone Else’s Story” with the fire and passion that is clearly boiling in her blood.  A stellar performance Megan Van De Hey!

When she encounters Florence, they, in an appreciation — if not equal respect — for each other’s predicament in this love triangle, are spot-on and blend perfectly in the duet “I Know Him So Well.”

Colin Alexander, as Walter, the American businessman fronting for the CIA, also displays a strong voice, although the role is absent any show-stopping songs to showcase him. Of the leads, it should be noted that not every song was perfect in its execution. However, it should also be noted that other performances of theirs were so good, powerful and well-delivered, that they pierced inside your soul to grab and stir your emotions without your consent. And, I dare say — as an almost thirty-year fan of this musical — that those numbers were delivered better than the Broadway cast album, and equal or better to the original London cast album, which speaks largely of a regional production.

Among those standout performances were “Heaven Help My Heart”, “Anthem”, “Someone Else’s Story”, the duets “You and I” and “I Know Him So Well”, and an incredible “Pity The Child” by Gregg Goodbrod (as Freddie).

If you like stories of love against staggering odds, and songs that move you emotionally, this is the show for you, and this is a terrific cast to experience it with.  They are a well-rounded cast, with moments of spectacular that will take your breathe away.

CHESS at the Lone Tree Arts Center (10075 Commons Street, Lone Tree, CO 80124) runs from April 20 – April 29th. Prices range from $58 – $72. More information and tickets here.


Lyrics by Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita)
Music by: Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus (ABBA, Mama Mia)
Based on the idea by Tim Rice

Directed by Rod A. Lansberry
Musical Director: David Nehls
Choreographer: Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck
Lighting Design: Jacob Welch
Production Stage Manager: Lisa Cook
Assistant Stage Manager: Lisa A. Kurtz
Sound Design: Steve Stevens
Scenic Design: Brian Mullgrave
Costume Design: Clare Henkel
Wig Design: Diana Ben-Kiki



About Brie Austin

Co-author of I'd Do It Again, he is a columnist/reporter for a variety of magazines in the areas of music, lifestyle, nightlife, travel and business. He also writes business documents and creates copy for websites.

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