As an artist is it hard to present new works of art sometimes. Often this struggle is because the new work is created in the shadow of the staggering genius of previous work that towers over the newborn.
This is especially true for lyricist Tim Rice, the co-creator to partner Andrew Lloyd Webber's huge smash Broadway hits Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1968), Jesus Christ Superstar (1970), and Evita (1976).
For his new work, Chess, one of many compositions that would be absent of Webber, Rice enlisted the former ABBA bandmates Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus for this musical staged in 1986 – but only after having the score shopped to the public via an early release of a 1984 concept album of the same name. It would gain traction in a new way, quite different than musicals of the past, and thus presented a flashpoint in a category often referred to as rock opera.
The results have been mixed, with critics loving either the London Chess debut or the New York one that nobly attempted to bring the best of London forward to the American audience.
At the core of this musical is a solid score written with ABBA that seems to have something for everyone. It tells the story of the (then-current) Cold War battle (once again starting up, if you read the headlines between Obama and Putin) against the backdrop of an international chess tournament where the ancient game becomes a metaphor for romantic rivalries, competitive gamesmanship, super power politics and international intrigue.
The part of the American grandmaster, Freddie Trumper, is loosely inspired by the world chess champion Bobby Fischer, with the opposing Russian challenger in this Cold War love story appearing to be a melding of the Russian grandmasters Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov.
But since the debut of this musical, there has not been a successful Broadway revival, casting doubts in some critic's minds about whether Chess will stand the test of time. That should not stop you from visiting the Actors' Theatre production but actually send you to the ticket booth to gain a seat, since it simply means we have an opportunity to stage it right on the smaller, more intimate scale that local theatre provides a production like Chess.
"In our show, we see that refined arena invaded, manipulated, and in many ways violated by the interference of both Cold War governments and the media," says Actors' Theatre Chess director Scott Mellema, "As a result, we see the chess world characters twisted and distorted by those influences…out of their element and continually adjusting just to survive in the emotionally dangerous waters. The results range from ridiculous to heartbreaking."
The show is packed with energy and lots of snappy numbers and is directed by Scott Mellema with music direction by Scott Patrick Bell and choreography by Erin Kacos.
General Admission: $26 for adults and $22 for students/seniors