Stories and Reviews for the Hawaiian Production

Music to be focal point in Chess

Derek Paiva - The Honolulu Advertiser, Friday February 16, 2001

Lyricist Tim Rice originally conceived his much maligned mid-1980s musical Chess as a comment on the Cold War's effect on the lives of everyone. Enlisting the music-writing talents of ex-ABBA members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Rice began writing the music for Chess before deciphering how he would dramatically stage the darn thing. The one thing Rice did know was that he would be using the world of international chess as a metaphor for the struggle between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. superpowers.

Sound like a recipe for disaster? It was.

Matthew Pederson (Freddie) and Jade Stice (Florence). Although the music from Chess proved popular, with songs like 'One Night in Bangkok' and 'I Know Him So Well' becoming worldwide hits, the musical's 1986-89 [Note: it closed in 1988] London production never managed to make back its initial investment [Note: not true--it did...just]. The story, a love triangle set amid the drama surrounding an international chess match between a Russian and an American, was lost in the musical's overt Cold War themes. The 1988 Broadway production closed after just 68 performances.

So why should Honolulu audiences go to this weekend's Diamond Head Theatre production?

'Everybody still loves the music so much that they keep trying to reinvent it,' director/choreographer Andrew Sakaguchi said of the musical he calls a work continually in progress. 'Every director who maps Chess is still trying to find the right way to present the music.' His staging removes the focus from the political themes and places it on the characters and music.

'It's not really relevant to us anymore,' he said of the threat of global nuclear warfare. 'The really good music in the show is about the emotions that each character is going through as they interact with each other. I really wanted that music to be the focal point of this version.'

Sakaguchi explained that the beauty of Chess is that no two directors' visions of the musical are the same.

Broadway actress back in Isles for starring role

Wayne Harada, Entertainment Editor, The Honolulu Advertiser, Friday, February 16, 2001

Jade Stice was one of the first Island actresses to catch the Miss Saigon wave in New York. She said Broadway provided a roller-coaster ride she値l never forget, but she痴 lucky she kept her priorities straight.
Broadway actress Jade Stice returns to the Islands to play Florence in 'Chess,' a role in which she is on stage for nearly the whole play. She said she hasn稚 done a lead in a while.

Besides Saigon, she has performed in Jekyll & Hyde and has toured in both. Because she worked with director-choreographer Andrew Sakaguchi in Hawai訴, he called her to invite her to portray Florence in Chess.

'Before he hung up, I knew I was going to accept,' Stice said, 'but I didn稚 want to sound so eager, so I said 銑et me check. We had just had a snowstorm and had to shovel our way to the car. Like, I was going to turn down 80-degree weather in Hawai訴?'

Also, she said, 'Vocally, Florence is where my voice sits.'

She hadn稚 seen the show, she knew only two tunes in the score, she hadn稚 done a lead in a while, but she knew it was time to return here to do a production.

Sakaguchi, who first worked with Stice in 1989 in Dreamgirls at the Hawai訴 Theatre, said he痴 the luckiest director in town.

'I致e been waiting to work with her,' said Sakaguchi, who worked with Stice when she produced a run of Forever Plaid in Waikiki a few years back, and roomed with her in New York 'when we both were poor,' he recalled.

'This was a wonderful opportunity. The chemistry she has with both leading men (Matthew Pedersen and Guy Merola) is amazing. She not only sounds great, but she looks beautiful, and her acting is intense.'

Florence is a tour de force role for her. 'I think I come off the stage for a total of 10 minutes for the whole show; it痴 nonstop, I was honestly concerned about my stamina level. I hadn稚 done a lead for a very long time and to do a lead of this magnitude, where it痴 not where you just sing pretty but you have to be there mentally.'

She has also been thinking about her personal life. 'The older you get, you kind of have to ask, 船o I want a family, do I want to raise my kids here? and those are the things that I have to consider now. I want to have kids by the time I知 35.'

She痴 not quite ready, however, to wash New York out of her hair. 'I think of others often, especially since Saigon has closed,' she said. 'A lot of people are faced with the decision, 'Do I stay in New York?' But it comes down to several questions: Are you a crossover look? If you池e just Asian, you don稚 get called. Can you pass for Hispanic? Can you pass for another race, as well as what you are?'

Producers are very type-specific, she said. And it痴 not just a matter of talent and looks. Luck is a factor, along with timing.

Play your cards right
Her Saigon stint started in 1991 through 1993; she left for a year and resumed roles from 1994 through 1997, the last two years on tour. She was part of a Flower Drum Song workshop production. The show was said to be Broadway-bound, but plans have changed.

Work hasn稚 been steady. 'It goes up and down; I致e been singing and auditioning for the past 2 years, and I can稚 deal with it anymore,' Stice said. "I wasn稚 ready to leave New York, but the auditioning process was tough. But if you can go and push through it, you池e a better person for it, because that rejection does something good for you. It humbles you, puts things in perspective, and you come back to Hawai訴 a little bigger fish if you go there. You see what the big picture is, eventually.'

'No one should ever complain being on the road, especially in a Cameron Mackintosh show,' she said. 'If you play your cards right, you can come off a tour and buy a home. That痴 how I did it. I knew what I wanted. I went on tour with a goal, to end up with something to show.'

STICE SPICE - Jade Stice, back from Broadway, stars in Diamond Head Theatre's production of Chess

John Berger, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Thursday, February 15, 2001

'Chess is really about how people play with other people, and how there is always a bigger picture,' says actor Jade Stice. 'Things that are right in front of you, that you think are so big and so important to you, can be like a speck of dust to someone else.'

Jade Stice, back from Broadway, stars in Diamond Head Theatre's production of <I>Chess</I> The superstar status of the 'three knights' -- Tim Rice and ABBA members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus -- who created "Chess" isn't enough to give it the mass appeal of a musical such as South Pacific, The Sound of Music or Cats.

The musical's most recognized song is 'One Night in Bangkok,' which hit No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 for British singer/actor Murray Head in 1985. But one hit song is not likely to sell the musical.

Diamond Head Theatre is presumably hoping the homecoming of a Broadway triumphant Jade Stice will get people through the doors long enough to be taken by the tale of international intrigue.

The DHT production will be Stice's first big show for a hometown crowd since she appeared opposite Alan Onickel and James C.K. Pestana in DHT's 1990 production of Singin' in the Rain. Stice has lived in New York City since 1991, and she's ecstatic to be performing here instead of dealing with winter in the city.

She says Chess tells a great story and no prior knowledge of the show or the board game is required. 'It's really about how people play with other people, and how there is always a bigger picture. Things that are right in front of you, that you think are so big and so important to you, can be like a speck of dust to someone else,' she says.

Stice stars as Florence, a woman who gets caught between an American grand master (Matthew Pederson) and his Russian rival (Guy Merola) while the two men are battling for the world chess championship. A key man on the Soviet team is Molokov (Mike Humerickhouse), a cynical KGB man responsible for watching the Russian champion and preventing political incidents.

(The Soviet Union designated chess a 'national sport' and considers possession of the world chess championship proof of the superiority of communism over capitalism.)

The story is based in part on two famed battles for the world championship title. One took place in 1972 when the brilliant and arrogant American challenger, Bobby Fischer, beat defending world champion Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union in Iceland. In 1978, a Soviet world champion, Anatoly Karpov, successfully defended the world title against Soviet defector Viktor Korchnoi in a rivalry so bitter that a divider was installed so the two men couldn't kick each other under the table.

Out of that history comes the musical tale of a rivalry between a loutish American and his urbane Russian opponent, as Soviet power brokers pursue a broader agenda.

Guy Merola plays Anatoly and Jade Stice, Florence, in Diamond Head Theatre's production of 'Chess', a tale of international intrigue. 'Florence is a pawn in the whole picture. That's the chess game for Florence. She's a pawn and she gets played. What she wants has nothing to do with anything in the big picture,' Stice said.

The DHT show is a reunion for her and several of her colleagues. She and director Andrew Sakaguchi worked together on a local production of Dreamgirls at the Hawaii Theatre and later became roommates for a couple of years in New York. Stice and Pederson worked together as members of the original Broadway cast of Miss Saigon, and Sakaguchi and Merola were the dynamic duo whose chemistry on stage was the most impressive element of Manoa Valley Theatre's staging of Kiss of the Spider Woman.

'Even when the helicopter (in Miss Saigon) didn't work -- and that happened quite a bit -- people would come up and say that they still enjoyed the show,' Stice says regarding the trend toward bigger and more elaborate effects, and louder music, on Broadway.

'People use technology in this MTV era -- lights and sound and 'big' -- and I think that's great, but a story has to stand on its own.' Chess has that power, she said.

'It's a huge undertaking and I was more concerned about the vocal challenge of it. When I got here and started working with Matthew and Guy and Andrew and trying to make my character real, I got caught up in the story. As an artist you always want to sound good and look good but when it's all said and done it's about, did they get it? Did they get the character? As an artist you should always have something to say (and) if one person gets it, you can say you've done your job. This is that kind of show!' 'But, maybe more people would come if the name of the show was 'One Night in Bangkok.''


The Honolulu Advertiser Tuesday, February 20, 2001
Stage Review by Joseph T. Rozmiarek, Advertiser drama critic

Chess musical is difficult to categorize

Despite excellent technical performances by its three principal singers, Chess - now at Diamond Head Theatre - is not an easy production to embrace. Nor is it easy to categorize.

With lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus from the group ABBA, the show blends operatic elements with popular music, setting a tone that is relentlessly oppressive and ultimately tragic. Expect no high-kicking chorus or hummable tunes from this Broadway musical. Although it did enjoy some success, Chess has had mainly a cult following.

The game becomes a metaphor for personal and political manipulation as the two opponents - an angry American and an earnest Russian - vie for championship and a young woman changes her romantic allegiances. Self-serving handlers on both sides mix motives and add complications with the finesse of the Borgia Popes.

Director Andrew Sakaguchi succeeds at sustaining tension through both acts, but his choreography is rigidly layered over the show and calls attention to itself apart from the action. Musical director Jeffrey Cooper squeezes good sound from his orchestra, but can't get understandable lyrics from the chorus in any of its big scenes.

As a result, three performances carry the production, and all are scrubbed free of distracting human charm or warmth.

Guy Merola carries the biggest load as Anatoly, the Russian. Estranged from his wife and with no clear political bias, he exists solely to play the game - almost unaware that his talent brings him comparative comfort and privilege.

Matthew Pedersen plays the spoiled, bad-boy American. Full of his own importance, he pushes and squanders his talent, oblivious to his supporters, despising his opponent.

Jade Stice takes the difficult central role of Florence. Torn between two lovers in true operatic style, she ends a love relationship with the American and begins one with the Russian primarily because the script requires it. Tragic love engulfs the stage. It's in the crashing music and the tortured lyrics. It's in the drowning-victim, staged embraces and wrenched expressions of physical pain.

It's everywhere but in the hearts of the audience, which largely reject the central relationships.

Nevertheless, there are several excellent dramatic moments when the music is built around sung dialogue, rather than hung on set pieces that are dropped into the action.

Merola and Stice are joined by Mikel Humerickhouse and John Bryan in "Quartet," which brings remarkable stature to the first act. Merola's solo on "Anthem" and Pedersen's "Pity the Child" are both moving pieces. Stice's duet with Renee Garcia, "I Know Him So Well" and Pedersen's work with Leonard Piggee on "No Contest" are both excellent.

But while the show is poised, mature and compelling, it is also coldly melodramatic and unapproachable, making a musical that is difficult to love.

DHT's stellar cast plays Chess well

By John Berger
Special to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Friday, February 23, 2001

Changing Chess's title to 'One Night in Bangkok,' based on a song from the musical, might have added an element of titillation given Thailand's unfortunate reputation as the sex emporium of east Asia, but assessed strictly in terms of its content and the quality of performances, Diamond Head Theatre's production of Chess should need no such trickery to fill the house. Chess is a winner on almost all counts.

Take it as a realistic statement on the nature of modern international power politics or as powerful contemporary musical theater. DHT's production works both ways. In terms of theme, style of music, and overall ambience, Chess is of the same genre as Miss Saigon and tells a similar story. Fans of one should enjoy the other.

Jade Stice makes a triumphant return to the local stage as Florence, a Hungarian-American woman pulled in several directions by her heart and by the agendas of unseen power brokers in a tale about intrigue surrounding an international chess championship. (Anyone who thinks the premise became outdated with the implosion of the Soviet Union should note the hardball politics of the People's Republic of China regarding Taiwan and Tibet.)

Florence leaves an obnoxious single man who doesn't appreciate her for a married man who does, then discovers that her choice may cost her more than her heart can afford to pay. Stice makes the role her own from her first moments on stage and does a superb job with a series of demanding power ballads.

Guy Merola (Anatoly) matches his superb performance in Manoa Valley Theatre's 1999 Kiss of the Spider Woman with his portrayal of a decent and honorable man tragically outmatched by opponents he doesn't even recognize as such. Merola's first big number, 'Where I Want to Be?,' leaves no doubt that he's perfect for the vocal demands of the role as well.

Chess fans will note that DHT's production is a variation of the American version of the story in which the obnoxious self-centered American chess master has a name, Freddy, and a back story in the song 'Pity the Child.' Broadway veteran Matthew Pederson plays the role well. 'Pity the Child' is his best musical number and a fine workout.

It's unfortunate that "One Night in Bangkok," the song that hit No. 3 on the American Billboard Hot 100 in 1985 and thus the one song mainstream music fans would recognize, falls far short of expectations. Pederson looked good on opening night but the number lacked the sizzle and crisp sardonic elitism actor Murray Head conveyed in 1985.

Renee Angelique Garcia, the brightest of director Andrew Sakaguchi's new discoveries, adds a strong fourth character as Anatoly's wife. Garcia's contributions to 'You And I' and 'I Know Him So Well' prove her a talent to watch for in future shows.

Leonard Piggee and Mikel J. Humerickhouse add strong performances in the major supporting roles. Piggee plays Freddy's mysterious business agent. Humerickhouse is Molokov, the KGB officer responsible for keeping track of Anatoly.

John L. Bryan (Arbiter) makes "Arbiter's Song" an early highlight in Act II. Christopher Bates, who labored for years as an anonymous DHT ensemble player, gets a slightly bigger role this time as a cynical reporter who arouses Freddy's ire in Bangkok.