On any Saturday night you could go into the city to see Les Mis or Once or some other musical. You’d see clever staging and very talented artists. You’d have to book well ahead, and you may have to pay well or you may end up in the gods which is where I often find myself sitting. Increasingly the show will be one of the franchised, highly commercial ‘biggies’ doing the international circuits and you’ll probably find yourself saying “What? It’s coming back already?” or wondering why anything that succeeds on film inevitably ends up on the stage, or vice versa.
Or, you could go to your local community theatre on a Saturday night. You’ll see talented artists, doing what they love, for the people who love them, and you’ll be proud and grateful that there are enough people like you to support our shared human love of singing and dance and performance. And, in my case, I wish that I’d seen this earlier in the season so that I wasn’t blogging about the final performance.
Chess is loosely based on the Bobby Fisher/ Boris Spassky tournament of the Cold War era and the rivalry of Soviet grandmasters Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov. The lyrics are by Tim Rice (of Jesus Christ Superstar fame) and Benny and Bjorn from ABBA wrote the music. It’s complex music: lots of words, lots of harmonies. It’s an ambitious choice for a local theatre company. The music is non-stop, there are no set changes and there is very little dialogue. The ensemble is on stage for much of the performance, and it’s very full on.
When you flip through the biographies in the program, you realize that the cast have many connections. Many have performed with other amateur theatre companies, several have undertaken tertiary studies in performance and musical theatre; others have connections with groups like the Production Company or have performed in television roles.
For me, the standout performers were Rosa McCarty (who played Florence) and Dennis Clements, who played Alexander Molokov. Their diction was good; Rosa McCarty had beautiful, nuanced control over the softer songs, and Dennis Clements had good stage presence. I had my eye on Courtney Crisfield in the ensemble, too. The whole cast worked hard, without a single flat spot. The chessboard scenes were tautly staged and impressive to watch although at times I felt as if the performers seemed rather more comfortable with singing than dancing.
Unfortunately the performance was poorly served by the design of the theatre itself. There was a live orchestra, but because it was located in a separate room off-stage, it was reliant on a sound system that thinned out the sound. There were some odd crackles and at times the singing sounded a bit shouty and overwhelming, making it hard to distinguish the competing lyrics.
This was an energetic and intelligent performance of a demanding work. There’s a real intimacy in a small theatre, where the performance is on the same level as the front seats and where the performers are right there. And as for the last note, a note that had so much riding on it- Rosa McCarty just soared, confidently- brilliant!