Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"Chess" by Second Fiddle Productions at Camp Bar

If you're a fan of musical theater, you need to be aware of Second Fiddle Productions. Now in their third season, Second Fiddle does one-night-only staged readings of rarely produced musicals. Musicals that may be difficult to produce for whatever reason, or maybe the book is problematic. Musicals that musical theater nerds love, with beautiful scores that often aren't heard live, but should be.

Last night was my fourth Second Fiddle show (and their highest attended performance ever!), and the fourth musical I'd never heard of. Chess was written by a couple members of ABBA, along with Tim Rice, and tells the story of two chess players, one Russian, one American, at the height of the Cold War. It's gone through several iterations, from concept album to West End success to Broadway flop. There are a lot of great '80s poppy songs ("One Night in Bankok" was a Top 40 hit in 1984), and the New York Times called the original concept album "a sumptuously recorded... grandiose pastiche that touches half a dozen bases, from Gilbert and Sullivan to late Rodgers and Hammerstein, from Italian opera to trendy synthesizer-based pop, all of it lavishly arranged for the London Sympathy Orchestra with splashy electronic embellishments." That's something I want to hear! The "reading" was pretty fantastic, especially the songs "Nobody's Side," "Anthem," and "Pity the Child." It's a piece that benefits from multiple viewings/listenings, much like Sondheim, or Shakespeare, and as I write this I'm watching the 2007 Idina Menzel/Adam Pascal/Josh Groban concert version (thanks to my friend Keith at Minnesota Theater Love). I'm grateful to Second Fiddle for introducing me to yet another great musical I'd never heard of.

the cast of Chess (photo courtesy of Second Fiddle)
In addition to giving theater audiences a chance to see and hear musicals they otherwise might not be able to, Second Fiddle also gives our brilliantly talented local actor/singer/musicians a chance to perform musicals they might not otherwise be able to. Directed by Rob Goudy and Music Directed by Kyle Picha (who also led the three-piece band), this amazing cast included Ben Bakken and John Brink, both perfectly suited to the roles of the American rocker and the more classically voiced Russian; Second Fiddle Artistic Director Ruthie Baker as Florence; Michael Gruber as the Arbiter; Zoe Pappas in the too small role of Svetlana; and a strong and deep ensemble that included Ben Schrade, Daniel Greco, Elena Glass, James Rodriguez, Jim Ramlet, Mathias Anderson, Mollie Fischer, and Molly Jo Schrade.

Second Fiddle's next show is 110 in the Shade, a 1963 musical from the creators of The Fantasticks based on the play The Rainmaker. Mark your calendar for October 24 and like their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter for updates.