I was invited to sit in on the dress rehearsal for the forthcoming Longmont Theater Company production of the UK version of the musical Chess before it opened on the evening of Friday, 3rd May. So this is not a review of the production – that will come in a few days – but something of a description of how a show like this comes about and who the people are who create the final product.
Chess was first shown in London in 1986, and was the brainchild of Tim Rice, collaborating with the two male members of ABBA, who wrote the music. It was inspired by the 1972 World Chess Championship between Bobby Fischer of the US and Boris Spassky of the USSR and was seen, at the time, as a metaphor for the international tensions of the Cold War.
Longmont’s production follows the original UK version, which is generally agreed to be superior to the US version that opened and closed within three months on Broadway in 1988. Of course, Chess has played since then in many parts of the world, from Hungary to Australia.
Unfortunately, some members of the band were out of action because of sickness, so this changed the format of the dress rehearsal somewhat and put more of a burden on the Musical Director, Tanya Jean Daugherty. She essentially represented the full band, constantly guiding the performers to come in on cue and time their respective refrains.
Daugherty worked even more closely with the Director, Pat Payne, who continually moved from stalls to the stage to running up the aisles in order to make sure the cast and lighting operatives understood his requirements. And when things went just right he raised his fists in the air and his enthusiasm seemed to infect everyone.
Apart from the fact that all involved worked very hard, I was impressed with the mutual respect shown by everyone. No sign of the temperamental director or leading man venting his or her frustrations in angry shouts or violent gestures. Politeness seemed to be the rule, which I have to say surprised me. Even when leading actors or the ensemble cast were asked to repeat yet again a particular refrain or scene, it appeared to be done with good humor and acceptance.
Another surprise was the professionalism of the all-volunteer cast. I don’t know how the final production will turn out, but it was fascinating to see Preston Adams command the stage as the self-absorbed and ill-mannered American Grand Master chess player Freddie Trumper. His lanky form and disdainful manner personified the Ugly American stereotype of the Cold War era, while the chemistry between him and his wife/paramour/manager Florence (Tiffany Sieu Gruman) was very evident. They both kept up their respective personas despite the many breaks in the action while the scenes were tweaked and fine-tuned.
The ensemble cast worked as hard as every chorus in a musical production always does and had to come back several times to “freeze” in the background while Anatoly (Steven Hartman), the Russian Grand Master, sang his solo and the Director and Lighting Designer got the lighting just right. It made me think how much we take for granted in a stage production. It looks right to the audience, so surely it was obvious to the guy who simply turns the light switches on and off? The answer is a definite no.
Everyone was still going at a rate of knots when I left the theater just before 10:00 p.m., and I am looking forward to seeing the final production with scenes running smoothly and the music finally melding with the Tim Rice lyrics.
How much do you value the Longmont Observer?
As Longmont’s only nonprofit newsroom, our only vested interest is to supply you with quality, nonpartisan, community-driven, Longmont-focused journalism. But, we need your help. We depend on our members to help us report Longmont news and to keep our journalism available and accessible by all. If you value what we do at the Longmont Observer, please show us with your support.