'Chess' actor makes his gambit

Warren Garver had wanted a role in the musical "Chess" well before he even knew he wanted to do community theater.

He loved the music when he first heard the recording of "Chess" — a so-called concept album released in 1984, when he was 5 or 6 years old.

The album was released two years before the musical premiered on London's West End, and later on Broadway.

Garver saw the musical in 1994 in Decatur, where he lives, and then last year at the Springfield Theatre Center.

"I would say the main thing that drove me to it was the music," said Garver, who plays Freddie Trumper in the Celebration Company production of "Chess" opening tonight at the Station Theatre.

"The music is fantastic," the 22-year-old Garver said. "It's hard to say exactly what it is. I'd say it works. I like it."

The music was written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, formerly of the rock group ABBA. Tim Rice wrote the lyrics.

Mikel Matthews Jr., who directs "Chess" for the Celebration Company, said most of the songs are of the musical-theater genre rather than 1980s rock, except for a few, particularly "One Night in Bangkok," which reached No. 3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1985.

Another song from "Chess" that hit the top of the charts was the duet "I Know Him So Well," by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson.

At the Station, a five-piece ensemble directed by David Zych will perform the music; the instrumentation includes two keyboards.

Besides liking the music in "Chess," Matthews feels the musical lends itself to "cool visual ideas" — the Station will have a "red wash" throughout its set — but not a red-and-black chessboard as backdrop. That would be too literal, he said.

Another reason Matthews likes "Chess" is that it's not about the game per se. He called it a tragic and wonderful love story set against the Cold War in 1986.

"It's really a small love story that intersects with international affairs," he said.

"Chess" is about a romantic triangle among two chess grandmasters — an American and a Soviet — and a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other.

Though the protagonists were not intended to represent specific individuals, the character of the American, Freddy Trumper, was loosely based on Bobby Fischer. The Russian grandmasters Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov also might have inspired some elements in the story.

In "Chess," David Barkley of Champaign plays the Soviet grandmaster Anatoly Sergievsky. Malia Andrus is Florence Vassy, the love interest of the Russian and American chess champs.

Matthews, who's the drama director at Rantoul Township High School, estimates the running time of "Chess" at 2 hours, 30 minutes, including intermission.

If you go

What: Celebration Company presents the musical "Chess," with book by Richard Nelson, music by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, and lyrics by Tim Rice; directed by Mikel L. Matthews Jr.

When: 8 p.m. today through Sunday; Dec. 11-15; Dec. 18-21

Where: Station Theatre, 223 N. Broadway, U.

Tickets: $10 on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; $15 on Fridays and Saturdays

Information: 384-4000; stationtheatre.com

Topics (2):Music, Theater

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