Rockville Musical Theatre, Maryland

F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, 31 October - 16 November 1997 CHESS
Music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Based on an idea by Tim Rice

Prologue Producer Stephen D. Welsh
Director Keith Scollick
Music Director TJ Cannady
Choreographers Roberta Margolies/Jill Lyons
Technical Director David Lashof
Set Designer Stephen D. Welsh
Stage Manager Denise M. Gilmore
Costume Designer Richard "Bat" Batistelli
Lighting Designer Jim Robertson
Sound Designer David Lashof, John Carnes-Stine

Freddie Trumper..........Randy Kravitz
Anatoly Sergievsky......Hans Bachmann
Florence Vassy...........Carmel Ferrer
Anatoly's room Ivan Molokov..............Michael Glenn Harless
Svetlana...................Susan Holtshouser
Harper Anderson.........Debbie Peoples

This production went by the book, doing the published Broadway version. They did, however, change the sex of Freddie's "agent," making Walter into Harper Anderson.

`Chess' is a must-see
by Laura Way, Journal staff writer
Florence, Anatoly and Freddie "Go.

Change your plans.

Alter your schedule.

Cancel something else and make your way to Rockville Musical Theatre's outstanding production of "Chess," which runs through Nov. 22.

An international chess match provides the background for a story of love, trust, betrayal and the Cold War. First produced in 1988, "Chess" reminds us of the suspicion with which the United States and the Soviet Union long regarded each other.

Bangkok dancer In a prologue opening scene, young Florence (Rachel Lyons), who is learning chess from her father amid the gunfire and beatings of Budapest's 1956 Hungarian uprising, is whisked away to safety, leaving him behind.

The scene shifts to 1980 Bangkok, where American chess champion Freddie Trumper (Randy Kravitz) arrives to confront his Russian opponent, Anatoly Sergievsky (Hans Bachmann), in the first half of the World Chess Championship. Accompanying them are their seconds, Florence Vassy (Carmel Ferrer) and Ivan Molokov (Michael Glenn Harless).

The tension evident from the outset of the match intensifies when Freddie accuses Anatoly of cheating and Florence of betrayal. Left to themselves, Florence and Anatoly fall in love, and Anatoly decides to defect to the United States.

One Night in Bangkok Complications do not stop there. Anatoly's wife Svetlana, compellingly played by Susan Holtshouser, arrives to salvage their marriage. Harper Anderson (Debbie Peoples), Freddie's aggressively irritating press agent, provides some of the rare moments of humor. When Molokov suggests using government authorities to apply pressure, Harper replies, "Our secretary of state makes no one nervous; that's our problem."

From leads to chorus, this cast is top-notch. Bachmann and Ferrer are superb, both separately and in duets such as "Terrace Duet" and "You and I." Whether in a moment of tenderness or one of passion, their voices soar.

Florence Kravitz's hyperactive Freddie is easy to hate until he reveals the root cause of his spiteful nature in the agonizing solo, "Pity the Child." Peoples can out-belt anybody on stage with no apparent effort.

Holtshouser portrays Svetlana's yearning as well as her strength in her songs, particularly the duet with Ferrer, "I Know Him So Well." After standing around staring at the chess players throughout most of Act I, the Arbiter (Will Hayden) comes into his officious own with the "Arbiter's Song." Victor Vail brings heart and soul to his role as Florence's long-lost father.

The 19-member chorus is refreshingly involved, energetic and accurate. Most of the songs are conversation set to music. In a rare gift to the audience, the performers enunciate so well that nothing in the message is lost.

No Contest The mostly black-and-white costumes (by Richard Battistelli) reflect the stark nature of the story. An amusing moment in which Soviet and U.S. representatives meet is made more so by having all nine men dressed in similar gray suits.

Set designer Stephen D. Welsh, scenic artist Joy Prentice and lighting designer Jim Robertson have provided a series of mini-sets that delight the eye and give strong support to the mood of each scene. One striking scene is the glitzy, flashy nightclub episode, "One Night in Bangkok." In contrast is the cathedral tryst, lit reverently by rows of votive lights and a glowing, stained-glass window.

There's an urgency about this show that compels one's attention from beginning to end. One feels like a witness to a moment in history that is pervaded by a sense of preordained doom, rather like that in the musical "Cabaret."

Let's Work Together Director Keith Scollick has pulled together all the elements to create a production that reveals continuing struggles on several levels while offering entertainment. The result is a class act.

Excellent actors, good story, intriguing musical numbers, fine set, attractive costumes. What more does one need? If you want an intense show that makes you think and feel rather than a lightweight frivolity, waste no more time. Get your tickets to "Chess" before they sell out."

Pity the Child Endgame

Rockville Music Theatre