Monday, 17 November 2014
Entertainment Monday: Chess (The Musical) - Monday 11/17/2014
A month ago on the night of October 17, 2014 I went out to see a free musical being performed by a local acting troupe called the Not So Common Players, at Shenendehowa High School, the High School nearest my work place in Clifton Park, New York. The Not So Common Players, based in Upstate New York's Capital Region, consists of a group of community members who love theatre, acting and singing. They all give of their time to put on 4 free performances for the public every year. Several of the performers are involved in theatre through their professions, whether that be teaching or as members of professional acting troupes. Others though who make up the cast and crew of the performances are merely local community members who have chosen to get involved in providing a little free entertainment and culture to the residents of the Capital Region.
Not So Common Players
The Not So Common Players rely upon donations from the community to put on their performances and as such the funds for putting on these free performances are a bit limited. So the production is not what you might expect when going to Proctors, the Schenectady Theatre which puts on professional performances. Given the funds and the time constraints the cast and crew have in putting together a show though, the quality of the performance is quite impressive.
The Musical I went to see was called Chess which was based off of a book by Richard Nelson. The music was composed and arranged by Tim Robbins for the original Broadway performances of Chess. During the Cold War Era in the United States most any sporting or intellectual event became fodder for Politicians as the United States and Soviet Union fought for supremacy in virtually any arena you could think of. There may not be many people today who know about the very poignant role the game of Chess played in these battles for supremacy. The musical Chess was based off of this history and the lead characters for the musical (Freddie and Anatoly) may have been inspired by the enigmatic American Chess Genius Bobby Fischer and his Soviet counterparts Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov.
picture credit from above link (Freddie on left, Anatoly on right, Moderator in middle)
In the Musical, Chess becomes a metaphor for the Cold War struggle, much as it did in real life. While history set the groundwork for this Musical the storyline is where poetic license is used as Freddie's "manager" Florence whose job it is to keep an eye on the Soviets and ensure fairness in the competition, becomes romantically involved with Anatoly. So the Musical itself is as much Florence's story as it is a commentary about Cold War Politics.
Florence and Anatoly, who is married prior to his relationship with Florence have their romance compromised by both their Governments and Freddie who is kind of free wheeling, almost drama queen.
I liked the music in the Not So Common players performance of Chess and it is obvious that the leads in particular have a great deal of musical talent. I thought that some of the songs Freddie had to sing had a few rough spots. I don't know if Brandon Jones who played Freddie made Freddie's songs seem harder then they were, or, if, in fact they were just the most difficult vocally. In fairness the range required for a few of his songs seemed almost barbaric. I don't think he even missed the notes, it just looked like a struggle to get to some of them. On the whole I thought Mr. Jones did a great job though and his acting performance was spot on. Molly Rose McGrath who played Florence and Heather-Liz Copps who played Anatoly's wife Svetlana easily had the best singing voices, while Shawn Hahn who played Anatoly was close behind the two lead women.
picture credit from above link (Svetlana on left, Florence on right)
I thought that Jones, McGrath and Hahn all did a great job acting. I got lost in the story which is a good sign when watching a play. I always find it to be a bad sign when you're in tuned to the things going on around you in the theatre. That was not the case, as the actors delivered their lines almost flawlessly. Adam Coons who played the Chess match moderator had a few slip ups on his lines during the performance. I feel it's a little harsh to point out, especially seeing as these people give a free performance and put a lot of time and effort into doing this for the community. As a good actor will do though, he did not let those slip ups roll into an utter disaster and he recovered well and quickly from them, not lingering on the errors.
The producer of the production Sally Burke explained prior to the play that it did not do well on Broadway, or have a long run and that her adaptation of the play tried to do justice to the character of Florence, whom the story most centered around. She mentioned that the book the musical was based off of was wrought with problems that in part contributed to the musical's struggles on Broadway. The way she spoke of the book's negative or controversial influence was almost as if the audience had an understanding of the book and it's relevance to the play's somewhat challenged history. I for one did not possess that understanding, as I have never read the book nor previously heard of the musical until I had read about the free performance in the local paper earlier in the week.
So the vagueness with which she tried to impress the point of the books issues with someone who had no prior knowledge of the play or the book it was based off of, caused the exact reasoning this book was so problematic to be lost on me. Perhaps if I read it some day I will understand better what she was getting at.
All in all it was an enjoyable night though. Prior to the play Ms. Burke mentioned they would pass around a bucket for donations after the musical finished. Once it ended I waited a bit and saw no bucket coming around. I also looked for one outside the exit and could not find one, so I feel badly that the $20.00 I was going to donate, remained in my pocket instead. >.<
For a free performance it was a night out well spent though and I came away impressed not only with the fact that people loved theatre so much to do it for free, but also with the quality of the performance and production they produced. I would like to see them again and will make it a point of finding out where to donate so I do not end up leaving without showing my appreciation.