Chess – a musical battleground

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Since the ’80s rock musical Chess first hit international stages, audiences have either given it a tongue-lashing or eulogized it.

The Walterdale Theatre community theatre production now running until July 16 sits somewhere in the middle.

In this production, director Kristen Finlay explores a slimmed down script with music from ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus with lyrics by Tim Rice.

This renovated version stays away from satirizing the game of chess preferring instead to focus on a love story set against the backdrop of several tense chess championships during the Cold War.

Playing out on a checkerboard stage, the two-hour plus musical is a series of power plays, both romantic and political often conducted under a code of chilly politeness.

Too often the musical tells us that the world is a chess game, and men and women are pawns forfeit to authoritarian powers in everything from global disputes to love.

It’s a grand metaphor but somewhere in this tale of international intrigue, headline-making defection and a geo-political love story the message loses some of its power.

Having said that, there are some great songs in the score such as Someone Else’s Story, Nobody’s Side, I Know Him So Well and Father’s Lullaby.

Millions of dollars and an equal amount of national pride are invested on several scheduled chess matches between the brilliantly despicable American grandmaster Freddie Trumpeter and his Russian peer, the more earnest, dignified Anatoly Sergievsky.

The wheels fall off the carefully orchestrated scenario when Florence Vassy, Freddie’s “second” falls in love with Anatoly, a married man, and he with her.

After Anatoly defects to the west for greater opportunities, the relationship triangle stretches into a square when his former Russian minders use Svetlana, his estranged wife, to get him back.

What comes across is that Russian and American spy agencies are equally duplicitous in their pursuit of nearly identical goals, and that the little guy’s counter-attacks are powerless in their iron grip.

Lauren Pearson as Florence is both sweet and edgy, a woman who demands to be treated with respect. While the song Nobody Else’s Story really defines Florence’s life, Pearson’s rendition of the power ballad Nobody’s Side lifts her role to a new level.

Todd Hauck as Anatoly delivers a man torn apart by his chess passion, the land of Mother Russia where he grew up and the woman of his dreams. Hauck delivers a patriotic zeal in Anthem that is both touching and sad.

Former St. Albert resident Matt Boisvert as the narcissistic jerk Freddie builds a character full of multiple shades that somehow elicits a degree of sympathy.

Almost a dual personality, Boisvert pleads for understanding of Freddie’s arrogant lifestyle in Pity the Child while rocking out in One Night in Bangkok.

Special mention should go to Mark Finlay as Molokov, Anatoly’s Russian KGB minder. Build like a Russian bear, Finlay displays an impeccable Slavic accent and forceful presence.

And Jesse Setka, dressed in cowboy boots and a southern drawl, is Molokov’s corrupt, double-dealing counterpart Walter at the CIA. He is the guy you love to hate and hope you never meet.

Chess is written with very little dialogue and it’s certainly not the perfect musical. But even as it sputters on some occasions, it still purrs in others.

Review

Chess, the Musical
Walterdale Theatre
Runs until July 16
10322 – 83 Ave.
Tickets: Call 780-420-1757 or at tixonthesquare.ca

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About Author

Anna Borowiecki

Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.