Strong voices boost Mas­quer­ade’s Chess


Chess has a check­ered his­tory. Orig­i­nally a con­cept al­bum, the mu­si­cal was a 1986 London hit, then a 1988 Broad­way flop. Sub­se­quent stag­ings have achieved vary­ing re­sults as the show has been re­worked to stress its strengths and cam­ou­flage its in­her­ent flaws.

It’s much the same game in Mas­quer­ade The­atre’s cur­rent pro­duc­tion, which is best ap­pre­ci­ated for the strong sing­ing of its ca­pa­ble leads as they sock across the score’s po­tent high­lights.

The draw­backs be­gin with the sub­ject. The show cen­ters on an in­ter­na­tional chess com­pe­ti­tion pit­ting Amer­i­can champ Fred­die against Soviet champ Ana­toly, amid Soviet-U. S. ten­sions in the last days of the Cold War.

In mu­si­cal theater terms, it’s hard to make a chess match sing. The show ’s use of the tit­u­lar game as a metaphor for in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics, love and ev­ery­thing else is sim­plis­tic and heavy-handed — as is much about Richard Nel­son’s book.

It doesn’t help that Fred­die is de­picted as a jerk, while Ana­toly re­mains largely an enigma.

Most of the Amer­i­cans are por­trayed as spoiled hot­heads, while the Sovi­ets are sneaky and vaguely threat­en­ing, right down to the req­ui­site stereo­typ­i­cal ac­cents.

The ro­man­tic an­gle is bet­ter. The Amer­i­can’s put-upon as­sis­tant ( and for­mer lover) Florence gets fed up with Fred­die and falls for Ana­toly.

When the Rus­sian de­fects, a KGB agent sends for Ana­toly ’s wife, Svet­lana, hop­ing she can per­suade Ana­toly to re­turn.

Florence and the late - ar­riv­ing Svet­lana are the show ’s most sym­pa­thetic fig­ures, and any in­volve­ment it gen­er­ates comes from them, as well as Ana­toly ’s dilemma as the man be­tween them.

Tim Rice’s lyrics are awk­ward and trite at times — un­gram­mat­i­cal, too, in No­body’s on No­body’s Side.

Benny An­der­s­son and Bjorn Ul­vaeus ( half of ABBA) wrote the score mostly in the Europop vein that was al­ready grow­ing tire­some when the show pre­miered.

Much of the driv­ing, up-tempo mu­sic sounds like im­i­ta­tion An­drew Lloyd Web­ber. One Night in Bangkok, the show ’s hit, is silly and down­right naive in its at­tempt to be hot stuff; in this stag­ing it comes across like a re­jected Gold­dig­gers rou­tine from Dean Martin’s 1960s TV show.

Yet the score boasts some un­de­ni­ably tune- ful stretches and, most im­por­tant, sev­eral ef­fec­tive bal­lads. Florence gets the best: her es­tab­lish­ing num­ber, Some­one Else’s Story; the poignant Heaven Help My Heart; and I Know Him So Well, her pow­er­ful duet with Svet­lana and the best thing in the show.

Among the other high­lights are two of Ana­toly ’s so­los, Where I Want to Be and a heart­felt An­them to his home­land.

As Florence, Re­bekah Dahl makes the most of the role’s op­por­tu­ni­ties with her ac­com­plished vo­cal stylings and per­sua­sive act­ing.

Luther Chakurian plays Ana­toly with brood­ing com­mand and, as al­ways, sings with great power and range.

Brad Scar­bor­ough ex­udes en­ergy and drive as Fred­die. Though his char­ac­ter is the least lik­able — and usu­ally forced to sing in a high rocker wail — Scar­bor­ough man­ages the chal­lenge rea­son­ably well. Kristina Sul­li­van con­veys wounded dig­nity and sings beau­ti­fully as Svet­lana.

Luke Wrobel, as omi­nous KGB op­er­a­tive Molokov, and Evan Tessier, as schem­ing CIA agent Wal­ter, lend cred­i­bil­ity to stereo­typ­i­cal roles and make the most of their big Act 2 duet.

Al­li­son Sum­rall brings punch to her turn as the bossy, no-non­sense Ar­biter.

Di­rec­tor Phillip Dug­gins’ stag­ing of the mu­si­cal num­bers is rather me­chan­i­cal, but he in­vests the more in­ti­mate and emo­tional scenes with earnest in­ten­sity.


LOVE AND POL­I­TICS: Florence ( Re­bekah Dahl) watches the ac­tion as Amer­i­can champ Fred­die ( Brad Scar­bor­ough, left) and Rus­sian champ Ana­toly ( Luther Chakurian) bat­tle it out in Mas­quer­ade The­atre’s pro­duc­tion of Chess.

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