Porirua Little Theatre, Wellington, New Zealand

9-26 September 1998
Director: Kate Ghent
Musical Director: Howard Tong
Choreographer: Nikki Bramwell
Anatoly Sergievsky..........Sandy Leadbeater
Freddie Trumper.............Rob Ormsby
Florence Vassy..............Tia Minnoch
Molokov.........................Geoff Scrase
The Arbiter.................Darryl Wratt
Svetlana......................Jan Jackson
Walter........................Mark ShepherdWalter
Mayor of Merano............Maurice Amor

    The Company: Kaaryn Cater, Fiona McLeod, Leigh Voss, Tania Redl, Karen MacKenzie, Jen Church, Jenny Smith, Sian Smith, Johanna Hogendoorn, Tracey Waterman, Gary Hollier, Jeff Agnew, Antoon Moonen, Sean Fitzgerald, Peter Leonard, Dave Cooke, Andrew Winter, Peiter McGilligan, Christopher Rodley

Margaret Cain, Liz Opie, Trudie Ashford, Helena Sophocleous

Production Staff:
Jean Hollier, Connie Barfoot, Judy Dunce, Nicci Tong, Gary Rogers, Theresa Rogers, Bev Janes, Sue Jaimeson, Andrea Chapman, Michael Buck, Bob Fluerty, Doug Neilson, Oliver Mander, Kathryn Naylor, Mary Jarmulski, Tom Ransfield and Denis Paxie.

Review Wellington "Evening Post"
12 Saturday 1998

Intrigue and detente surrounds game of chess
What: Chess, book and lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. Dir Kate Ghent, Musical director Howard Tong, Choreographer Nicki Bramwell
Where: Porirua Little Theatre, Titahi Bay until September 26
Reviewed by: Ewen Coleman

While the premise on which Chess is based, the gamesmanship between two international chess players from Russia and America as a metaphor for the Cold War, may no longer be relevant, as a piece of musical theatre it still has a lot going for it.

This is due to both the catchy, melodic music by the boys from Abba and Tim Rice's ability to intertwine politics and sport around a love story which, inicidentally, does not have a happy ending.

The story of Chess involves Anatoly Sergievsky, a Russian chess champ in Italy to do battle with the American chess star, Trumper, a bit of a brat and Soviet basher who turns nasty when his girlfriend Florence, a refugee from Hungary, falls for Anatoly.

Anatoly defects to the West to be with Florence and a year later turns up, as an American citizen in Bangkok (hence the hit song "One Night In Bangkok") to defend his world title against another Russian.

This time his wife, Svetlana, turns up to compete with Florence for his love (the other hit from the show "I Know Him So Well") thus creating a different love triangle from the first half.

In the end though, it is all too much for Anatoly who re-defects back to Russia leaving everyone's lives in tatters.

The production team of Kate Ghent, Howard Tong and Nicki Bramwell have pulled out all the stops to overcome many of the complexities of the music, providing depth and feeling to the show's many emotional strands in a production that flows with coincidence in a very professional manner.

Exquisitely costumed, the show provides a visual and musical feast from the opening number to the finale.

Sandy Leadbeater is superb as Anatoly, not only in the power and control of his singing but in the sensitive and humane way he portrays the character. Tia-Louise Minnoch as Florence is his equal in the way she handles her character and together they complement each other well.

This is an excellent production of a difficult but entertaining show that has everything expected from a good musical.

Tia Minnoch (Florence)
I guess the only comment I would like to make is a reference from actually playing "Flo" and that is she MUST create expressions (facial & body language) that sell the story...because we all know the plot is difficult to grasp (which has not been difficult for our audiences I believe...which is a huge credit to the way it has been directed), but because the impact at the end of why she is so devestated and left with wouldn't have the same kind of impact we are trying to portray if she wasn't working all the time during the show with her personality, reactions to stuff and her body language.....oh and yeah, any Florence HAS to be able to just sing...but ROCK!!!....but that's fairly obvious. It's a musical/vocal marathon and a competent singer is a MUST! I've had to really work at creating a blend between a classical sound and a pop sound as my tendency is to fall into my rock voice that's been a challenge...but one worth doing. I have managed to reach some notes I never thought possible.

Oh and also, to make her relationships with both men (lucky gal!) as realistic as possible with heaps of feeling and passion....whether it is in an argument with Freddy or a romantic embrace with Anatoly....she can't always be seen as a cold bitch...need to see her vulnerabilty and her passionate side. It's been a whirlwind of emotion every night I perform her....sometimes feel so emotionally drained...I even caught myself crying one night during the swept up in the drama...amazing.

Kate Ghent (Director)
The following is from a member of my chorus who passed on some of her comments to me for your website. It's interesting to know how the chorus feel about a production. Please also note that this is an amatuer production, so rehearsing is done out of normal working hours. I should mention that I included Svetlana singing "Someone Else's Story" after You and I reprise in Act 2 and before Walter and Florence. It really works. Sveltana is such a small part and when you are doing an amatuer production, you try and use people as much as you can. My Svetlana has a stunning voice (she played Fantine in Les Mis professionally) so "Someone Else's Story" sounds wonderful and it is a lovely song.

Sian Smith (Ensemble)

If you do a production of Chess, these are my comments. First, give the company/chorus heaps of time to work on the harmonies. I think it was great that we had nearly 4 weeks just rehearsing the music. In my opinion that is one of the reasons why our production sounds so good - we put a lot of work into the music/harmonies. The two songs that I think we could have spent more time on are "Press Conference" (the timing in that is soo hard) and "Endgame" (the harmonies (the alto part of which contains a "devil's interval" - TR will know what that is!) really give the scene its drama and atmosphere). In the same vein I think that the number of women singing the soprano part doesn't need to be very great. They always have the melody (well just about always!) and are generally so loud that the harmonies can get drowned out even if you have altos that can really belt!

Second, be bold and consider casting a woman as the Arbiter. Any alto worth their salt could sing it easily! In some cases I think that the lyrics the Arbiter sings sound better coming from a woman. Examples: "I think both your constitutions are terrific so, now you know, BE GOOD BOYS" and "I DON'T LIKE WOMEN, I don't take dope". I also like the idea of having the Arbiter sing "One Night in Bangkok", although it may be hard for an audience to accept that song from anyone other than Freddie due to Murray Head making it so well known.

Third, I think having Svetlana sing "Someone Else's Story" is a great idea. It gives that character a decent solo number (otherwise the part is really quite small and doesn't have much of an impact - I don't remember Svetlana at all from the professional production I saw in 1992) and I think it fits better with the Svetlana character than with Florence.

Fourth, don't try and "update" the show. I think the story works well as a kind of "historical" drama now that the Cold War has effectively ended. Plus you have the whole 80s retro thing going for you! I really enjoy playing a "Comrade" during the Arena and Endgame scenes - a lot of that would "disappear" if the show was updated.

© 1998, 2018 - Sylvia Stoddard