BWW Review: CHESS In Concert at the Kennedy Center: A Special Night to Remember
The Kennedy Center inaugurated their new theater series, "Broadway Center Stage" which presents Broadway 's best musicals in semi-staged concerts with talent direct from Broadway with a new production of CHESS. This new series is similar to the "Encores" series in New York which also does semi-staged concerts of former Broadway shows very successfully.
Following CHESS the "Broadway Center Stage" will present Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony Award-winning musical IN THE HEIGHTS March 21-25 and Frank Loesser's classic Pulitzer Prize-winning musical comedy HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING running June 6-10, both at the Eisenhower Theater.
Let me start by admitting I LOVE the music from CHESS and have always believed it deserved another chance on Broadway (it played there in 1988 for only 68 performances).
The show features a love triangle between an American chess champion, his assistant who falls in love with his Russian opponent and is torn between them. The basis of the show stems from 1972 Bobby Fischer v. Boris Spassky chess dual. Here the action takes place between 1979 and 1983 in the middle of the cold war which by the use of great projections by Daniel Maloney gives the audience a reminder of what this was like. There are typical Moscow parades of missiles, ads for Ronald Reagan and even an interview with atom bomb maker J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Acclaimed Broadway Director Michael Mayer has been brought in and does a masterful job using an amazing cast and ensemble who all sit on chairs underneath the 19 member Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra under the capable baton of Chris Fenwick. They are located on a second level in front of the video screen. They were fabulous and it was a pleasure to watch them perform.
The inspired cast includes Raoul Esparza as the rock star American chess start Freddie Trumper, the amazing Ramon Karimloo as the Russian champion, Karen Olivo as Trumper's assistant, and Ruthie Ann Miles who plays the Russian's wife who stayed behind in Russia.
Playing the nerdy narrator is Bryce Pinkham.
All of these actors have had much success on Broadway and they are superb.
Adding to the enjoyment is the excellent ensemble who all demonstrate an amazing acumen for ballet which adds greatly to the event. Lorin Latarro did the Choreography. Her work really shined in the sensuous "One Night in Bangkok".
I saw the terrific Signature Theatre production in August 2010 which also featured a terrific cast: Euan Morton (now portraying King George III in HAMILTON on Broadway), Jill Paice, Eleasha Gamble, and Chris Sizemore. But this version is very different thanks to a new book by Danny Strong.
The cast seemed to love performing with each other. I noticed that Esparza couldn't help smile while Karimloo was belting out a solo.
I can't say enough about the gorgeous score of CHESS thanks to the Arranger and Orchestrator Anders Eljas.
I have heard that all three composers attended the show at the Kennedy Center along with members of The Shubert Organization with the possible intention of a Broadway run. I spoke to ensemble member Paloma Garcia-Lee after the show who strongly believes the show has a future. She also mentioned that she and many others in the cast will be heading to Boston's Colonial Theatre for the pre-Broadway musical MOULIN ROUGE.
Also heading to the Kennedy Center his summer is AIN'T TOO PROUD - The Life and Times of The Temptations running June 19 to July 22, 2018.
Tickets for the Kennedy Center Advance Sales are available at 202-416-8540.
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