BWW Review: CHESS at Pioneer Theatre Company is a Triumph

BWW Review: CHESS at Pioneer Theatre Company is a Triumph

For regular theatergoers, it isn't often that a performance will stand out over the years as one not to be forgotten. Pioneer Theatre Company's triumphant concert version of CHESS (running for three performances only) is one of these.

CHESS (book by Richard Nelson, lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of ABBA) is about two chess champions--one from Russia and another from the United States--and the woman who stands between them.

The three leads are performed by Broadway actors Coleen Sexton (JEKYLL & HYDE) as Florence, Matthew Hydzik (SIDE SHOW revival) as Freddie, and Michael Halling (THE BOY FROM OZ) as Anatoly, and they are capable and worthy of playing their roles in a Broadway revival. Yes, they're that good.

Sexton is a shining light illuminating the stage every time she enters, Hydzik is a firecracker with appealing bravado, and Halling is a smoldering flame. Together, they ignite the air with passion and united fervor. Sexton's clear belt, Hydzik's bright contemporary vocals, and Halling's rich legit voice create a listening experience that is incredibly rewarding (with some credit surely owed to Broadway music director Phil Reno, who conducts the wonderful onstage orchestra).

Holding their own in the firestorm of talent are impressive supporting players David McDonald as Molokov and Utahn Christopher Higbee as Walter.

Director/choreographer Karen Azenberg's simple blocking and musical staging are more complex than expected for a concert version. Together with David Neville's colorful lighting, Brenda Van der Weil's color-coded costumes, and the elegant columned set (uncredited), the show's arresting visuals are unfettered by unnecessary clutter.

Two performances are left. Get tickets if you can! If not, mark your calendars for next year's sure-to-be-spectacular concert version of Lin-Manuel Miranda's IN THE HEIGHTS, which Azenberg first announced at the reviewed performance.

CHESS plays through March 11, 2017. For tickets, call the box office at 801-581-6961 or visit

Content advisory: The show contains a small amount of strong language.

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