Producing Chess is an ambitious choice, even for venues with funding and resources that greatly outnumber those available at UVU. Therefore, the UVU theater department’s choice to put on the show seemed pretty shocking.
Chess, written by MAMMA MIA composers Bj?rn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, along with lyricist Tim Rice, is filled with taxing vocals for both the ensemble and leading characters. It spans over two continents and deals with a complex storyline. The game to determine the next world chess champion coincides with the end of the Cold War, and the game on the board parallels a convoluted political game.
The original script averages at four hours long. UVU’s production is cut to two-and-one-half hours, making the complex story line even more difficult to keep up with.
Once the decision had been made to produce Chess, there’s only so much a director can do to put on a quality, comprehensible production. To keep up with the story, be sure to read the notes in the program before the show begins.
Excuses and backstage details aside, Chess was riddled with imperfections. The most glaring flaw was the lack of honest human portrayal from the actors. As soon as the exposition gives way to a rising plot, it’s easy to become desperate to see an actual, natural human being on the stage, instead of a slew of greedy, sloppy ensemble members and stiff leads.
Christopher Clark as Gregory Vassey fulfilled this void for a few minutes, portraying his character honestly, making the action and emotion believable.
In most local theaters, sound editing is the hurdle between amateur and professional musicals. With no backstage speakers, the house speakers played the music (an outdated synthesized recording) very loud so the actors could hear it. This becomes uncomfortable for the audience.
In part because of the original script, it is difficult to genuinely care for any of the characters. This could be corrected by the actors, however, even with the extensive cuts in the script.
Poor Collin Thomas, as the Russian contender Anatoly Sergievsky, was nervous enough for the entire cast. He sang well, but allowed his own stage fright to hinder his character’s development. Sergievsky’s downfall is haunting when he is played as a strong, violently confident chess geek.
Thomas’ delicate portrayal made Sergievsky’s ultimate ruination awkward and unimpressive.
Kari Murray sang excellently as Florence Vassey, the apex of the love triangle. Her voice was the best fit to her role of the cast. However, her movements and facial expressions were stiff and unrealistic. The opposite can be said for Darick Pead, who played the American contender in the chess championship. His vocal range was much less well matched to his part than Murray’s, but his actions were more fluid and believable.
The most interesting parts of Chess are the violent ambitions and motivations — the compelling brassy interpersonal relationships. The harsh unrelenting characters and the clashing intentions make the roles interesting. When UVU’s production tried to focus on this aggressive theme, it was uncomfortable and contrived.
There were several excellent musical numbers, the standout being Nobody’s Side, sung by Murray with the ensemble in the background. It was quite pristine and thrilling, reminiscent of heart-wrenching 80’s ballads like Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
Where: Ragan Theater
When: Jan. 22-31, excluding Sunday, at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $6 for UVU students, $8 for other students, UVU faculty/staff and seniors, $10 general admission.
Box Office: UVU Campus Connection, (801) 863-8797