Review: 'Chess' is time well spent
By Tricia Stiller
I was impressed when the Celebration Company at the Station Theatre announced its 42nd season, and among the offerings sat "Chess."
Any musical theater fans worth their salt, myself included, have been using music from this rarely seen production as audition music for nearly three decades, and I was eager to see what the intimate venue would do with this intriguing "tour de force."
Much like the game itself, for those who are unfamiliar, "Chess" is a complicated musical. Conceived by legendary lyricist Tim Rice, the ambitious undertaking with a near cult following hit the airwaves nearly two years before it made it to the stage, when Rice, along with collaborators Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA fame released their efforts as a concept album.
Featuring hits like "One Night in Bangkok" and "Heaven Help My Heart," the rock opera generated a lot of excitement just as other Rice projects offered in the same fashion — "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Evita" — had done.
Unfortunately, the strength of the music — and it is impressive — was not evenly matched with a story line, which is, at its simplest a love triangle. But considering it's set against the backdrop of a Cold War era matchup between a reigning Russian chess champion and an arrogant American, there are layers of political intrigue, betrayal and heartbreak to sift through as well.
That said, director Mikel L. Matthews Jr., along with his production staff, gives his talented ensemble an open tab on passionate expression and they rise to the occasion with no apology.
Warren Garver plays Freddie Trumper, the young, brash, American chess champ on a whirlwind tour, displaying the appropriate level of angst with the vocals of a rock star.
David Barkley, always impressive, plays the Russian, Anatoly Sergievsky, with all the range that his character demands, and then some.
Malia Andrus is Florence, Freddie's second and handler, and we suspect onetime object of his affection, who finds herself falling in love with his competitor. Andrus delivers with an iron fist, displaying an impressive vocal as well as emotional range required for the complicated role.
Adding to the intrigue are Kevin Paul Wickart as Molokov, and Jessica Miller as Anderson, who conspire to break up the hot new romance by making promises they can't possibly keep.
Supported by an outstanding set of musicians, this production is a tad long, clocking in at just shy of three hours, but considering how infrequently this musical is staged, catching a performance would be time well spent.
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
Tricia Stiller serves as director for the McLean County Diversity Project's Theatre Program, the Miller Park Summer Theatre Program and the Penguin Project McLean County. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.