Chess has a long and complicated history, from concept album to London production to Broadway, which I'm not going to go into here. If you're interested, check out the Wikipedia page or my fellow Twin Cities Theater Blogger Keith's post at Life in Revue. What's being presented at Gremlin Theatre is the story of a chess tournament between rivals: the American Freddie and the Soviet Anatoly. But to me, maybe because of where we are at this moment in our culture, this is really Florence's story. She's Freddie's second and ex, but falls in love with the married Anatoly, and is in search of her past and family in Hungary where the second act takes place. I found her the most compelling character. Freddie's an arrogant jerk, and Anatoly, while more sympathetic, leaves his wife and children for no apparent reason. Both Florence and Anatoly's wife Svetlana are strong characters, and even though their lives do sort of revolve around the men, they're the ones I care about (similar to how the women are the best part of Mad Men). There's a complicated bit about Anatoly defecting from the USSR to the USA, and then going back, and Florence's past being somehow used in that exchange. It's all a little convoluted and I didn't bother too much trying to follow the plot. The strongest part of this piece is the music and the characters, who come alive during the songs.
The Cold War might be over, but the US/Russia relationship is as timely as ever, which makes this piece take on a whole new meaning (it's some kind of weird irony that this arrogant American bastard of a celebrity is named Trumper, which sounds eerily familiar, except that this one hates Russians). The lyrics about borders and wars, and the theme of refugees and immigrants and finding a place to call home, are all just as meaningful in 2017 as they were 30+ years ago.
|Freddie, Florence, and Anatoly
(Michael Burton, Sarah DeYoung, and Carl Swanson)
|the cast of Chess
If you're a musical theater nerd, either one who already knows this piece or who needs to learn about it (like me), you should definitely check out this production. It's a great piece (at least musically), the whole team puts in great effort, and it's just awesome cheesy fun. Continuing at Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul through December 17.
|from @cherryandspoon Instagram