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Chess ~ Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
February 16, 2018

Bryce Pinkham and Ensemble in CHESS_Photo by Teresa Wood.jpg

Kennedy Center theatregoers were treated to an all-star inaugural production of Chess on Thursday night.  Heading for its Broadway run, this latest treatment of the original 1986 rock opera is chockful of enough extraordinary singers to make any producer green with envy – Raúl Esparaza, Ramin Karimloo, Ruthie Ann Miles, Karen Olivo, Bradley Dean, Sean Allan Krill and Bryce Pinkham.

With a rich score by Björn Ulvaeus (ABBA songwriter) and Benny Andersson (ABBA bandmember), and lyrics by Tim Rice (collaborator on Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Lion King, Alladin, Beauty and the Beast), Broadway Center Stage expects this new version to achieve supersonic stature.  Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer, who is top-loaded with stage and screen credits, has been charged with pulling it all together.  In this five-day only musical concert, all performers remain on stage reading their lines and singing their numbers from script books which, unfortunately, renders most of their words unintelligible.

Ramin Karimloo and Raul Esparza in CHESS_Photo by Teresa Wood.jpg

For pill-popper and American grandmaster Freddie Trumper (the oddest choice of names), it’s a mental duel with himself – and he’s losing.  His paranoia (though it turns out the Russians were spying on him and trying to psyche him out) threatens to undermine his chances for success.  It all goes down against the backdrop of the historic SALT II Treaty talks, the success of which hinges on convincing Freddie to lose the tournament so the Soviets can regain their pride.

Raul Esparza and Karen Olivo in CHESS_Photo by Teresa Wood.jpg

Freddie (Raúl Esparaza Company, Sunday in the Park with George) and Anatoly (Ramin Karimloo Anastasia) are both in love with Florence (Karen Olivo West Side Story, In the Heights), a Hungarian national forced to work for the CIA, but Anatoly is still wed to Svetlana (Ruthie Ann Miles The King and I, Here Lies Love) who lives apart from him in Moscow with their two children.  Alex Molokov (Bradley Dean Dear Evan Hansen) is Anatoly’s KGB handler and Walter de Courcey (Sean Allan Krill Honeymoon in Vegas) is Freddie’s CIA handler.  The Arbiter (Bryce Pinkham A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder) relates the backstory while the tournaments are held in different countries.  It’s a fairly basic love story brightened by international cloak-and-dagger schemes backgrounded by the Cold War.

Video projections by Darrell Maloney reflect history-making moments and Lorin Latarro (Waitress) choreographs the dance sequences (one of which is super erotic) in this human chess game where winning is the only goal despite the threat of a looming nuclear war.

Through February 18th in the Eisenhower Theatre at The Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit online.

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