Chess Cast
Playbill Online report
In Theater report

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Michael Cerveris performed as narrator in two special benefit concerts of Chess.
He opened the concert with a powerful and stirring rock version of the "Story of Chess."
The shows took place at the John Houseman Theater on May 10 and 17 at 8pm
All proceeds went to Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights Aids

"The Story of Chess" - Michael Cerveris ---real audio

Michael & cast of Chess 5/11/98

Michael Cerveris, Christiane Noll
Brian d'Arcy James, Rob Evan
Alice Ripley

photo by Bruce Glikas

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    Chess Benefit Cast

In Theater Chess Concert playbill
Narrator - Michael Cerveris
Freddy (5/17) - Dave Clemmons
Freddy (5/10) - Brian d'Arcy James
Anatoly - Robert Evan
Molokov - Raymond Jaramillo McLeod
Florence - Christiane Noll
Svetlana - Alice Ripley
The Arbiter - Danny Zolli

Bill E. Dietrich
Jennifer Little
Robert Longo
Michelle Mallardi
Michael Messer
Keyvn Morrow
Brad Oscar
Trevor Richardson
Jeri Sager
Douglas Storm
Kay Story
Eileen Tepper
Allyson Tucker
Laura Voss

The Band
Keyboard - John Glaudini
Keyboard - Billy Jay Stein
Percussions - Mark Frankel
Bass Guitar - Alan Greene
Guitar - Steve Benson
Reed - Greg Wall

The Production Team
Producer - Robert Evan
Production Assistant - Linda Russak
Technical Director - Gustav Heningburg II
Lighting Designer - Howell Binkley
Assistant Stage Manager - Suzie Tucker
Production Stage Manager - Babette Roberts
Choral Director - Wendy Bobbitt
Musical Director/Producer - Neil Berg
Director - Philip Hoffman
Marketing Associate - Jennifer Hall
General Manager - Jonathan Schulman
Production Supervisor - Caralyn Spector
Executive Producer/Marketing Director - Bruce Roberts

There will be one 15 minute intermission

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     Chess Benefit Concert Report

Playbill Online
May 11, 1998

It could almost be a musical adage: Put on a production of Chess and people will come. Despite a failed Broadway production in 1988, the Tim Rice/Benny Andersson/Bjorn Ulvaeus musical Chess has enjoyed a cult following since its 1984 concept recording (featuring Elaine Paige, Barbara Dickson, and Murray Head) and music videos. Revivals and concert versions, such as one at off- Broadway's Master Theatre in 1992, have continued.

A new concert version including Broadway stars such as Rob Evan, Alice Ripley, Brian d’Arcy James, Christiane Noll, and Michael Cerveris add another legend to the already legendary Chess. On May 10, the first of two (May 17) sold out Chess concerts for the benefit of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS took place at 8 PM at the John Houseman Theatre, home of Signature Theatre Company production of John Logan's Never The Sinner.

Set against the Never The Sinner backdrop on a stage strewn with cords and microphones, the minimally staged show presents the musical as songs strung together by Cerveris, the wise-cracking narrator. The singers are accompanied by a six piece band including three keyboards, a guitar, a bass guitar, and a saxophone and flute player, led by musical director Neil Berg .

Popular Chess numbers featured in the show include “The Story of Chess”, “Where I Want To Be”, “Quartet (A Model of Decorum and Tranquility)”, “Nobody’s On Nobody’s Side”, “The Terrace Duet”, “Embassy Lament”, “Anthem”, “One Night In Bangkok”, “Heaven Help My Heart”, “I Know Him So Well”, “The Deal (No Deal)”, “Pity The Child”, “Endgame”, and “You and I”.

Changes from the standard format were made for the sake of evenly distributing the numbers in the show, which Noll, who sang the part of Florence, called “Florence-heavy”. Ripley as Svetlana sang both “Someone Else’s Story” and “Heaven Help My Heart”.

“It’s not about one person coming out as a star,” Noll said.

Ripley agreed. “You can interchange [Svetlana and Florence’s] stories. They have a lot in common.”

The Arbiter, sung by Danny Zolli (Jesus Christ Superstar), also gave the second act opener, “One Night In Bangkok”.

The show was meant as a concert version, not an acted, character-driven show. Although James conveyed the swagger and arrogance of the American, he stressed the concert is not about creating a character, but about singing the music. “The music informs the character. . .You can let the music tell you where the character is, ” James said.

According to Zolli, the concert style allowed more freedom for the singers to explore the songs, such as a rock version of “The Story of Chess” by Cerveris, a less spoken, more sung “One Night in Bangkok” by Zolli, and a riff on the Beatle's “Hey, Jude” by James in “Pity The Child”.

“It [Chess] lends itself to putting your own vocal stamp on it,” Zolli said.
Michael Cerveris & Brian d'Arcy James

Cerveris was given the freedom to improvise his narration, “To embellish as I see fit--within reason,” he stressed.

Regardless of her added songs, Ripley would have played Svetlana out of her love of the show. She remembers being in college and first hearing the album. The style of the show and especially Paige’s singing affected her own performance so much so that while on Sunset Boulevard, Ripley told co- star Paige that her performance on Chess had broadened her own singing.

Michael Cerveris & Brian d'Arcy James
photo by Bruce Glikas

“I’d never heard anyone sing like that,” Ripley said, citing Paige’s stylistic mixture of rock and musical theatre on the 1984 recording of Chess.

Most of the singers got involved with the concert from knowing Evan, who not only sang Anatoly, but also co-produced the show. Evan had sung Anatoly in a benefit version of Chess in Miami and wanted to do it again, this time for the benefit of BC/EFA.

When he was told that BC/EFA, as producers, had too full of a season to produce another benefit, Evan decided to produce Chess himself.

“I wanted to do it myself. I would produce it because I knew what I wanted,” he said. “The response was so huge.”

In fact, Evan wished a bigger space had been chosen. But he was grateful to the Houseman who gave the theatre to them and for the intimacy that the concert version evoked.

Evan is proud of this Chess. “It’s unique. It’s our concert,” he said.

On May 17, a second show with Dave Clemmons as the American will be performed. Tickets for the second performance are also sold out.There are no plans at this time to produce a recording.

Philip Hoffman directs with musical direction by Neil Berg and choral direction by Wendy Bobbit. Also involved are Bruce Roberts (Executive Producer), Caralyn Spector (Production Supervisor), Jonathan Schulman (General Manager), and Babette Roberts (Production Stage Manager).

-- By Christine Ehren

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     In Theater

May 29, 1998

photo by Bruce Glikas

First Act: Ken Mandelbaum's Buzz
Chess cast @Bruce Glikas
A classic example of a much admired score attached to a piece that has never fully satisfied in its numerous stagings, Chess has one of the most complex histories of any contemporary musical. Preceded by an RCA concept album, the elaborate 1986 London stage premiere -- initiated by Michael Bennett, taken over by Trevor Nunn -- ran three years, came close to returning its investment, and remains the most exciting of the numerous stage versions this observer has encountered, thanks to an ideal star trio (Elaine Paige, for whom the leading female role was created, Murray Head, and Tommy Korberg) and one of the finest uses of high-tech stagecraft to date.

Because storytelling was somewhat murky and the production so costly, the London version failed to become the prototype for future stagings, few of which succeeded, even if they continued to win fans for the score. Nunn was fully in charge of the flop New York production, which also had superb leads (Judy Kuhn, David Carroll, Philip Casnoff, Marcia Mitzman) but suffered from the addition of a book by Richard Nelson (the London version was almost entirely sung) that was an uneasy fit for the score, plus a drab physical production. Still saddled with the Nelson text, Des McAnuff's staging for an unsuccessful U.S. tour was at least a clarification and improvement, and the interesting leads were Carolee Carmello, Stephen Bogardus, John Herrera, Gregory Jbara, and Barbara Walsh.

The Broadway failure meant that the show did not become the international pop opera hit initially envisioned, although there was an admired Australian version staged by Jim Sharman in 1990 (but a disastrous Australian revival in 1997). New York saw Chess again in 1992, when it became the first and only production of a company called the Artists' Perspective with Kathleen Rowe McAllen, J. Mark McVey, Ray Walker, and Patrick Jude in the leads. Throughout the '90s, Chess was mounted at major U.S. musical venues, with Mitzman (moving up to Florence in a small-scale L.A. mounting opposite the Freddie of Douglas Sills), Jodi Benson and Ann Crumb among the leading ladies.

The material has been altered for every one of these stagings, with varying amounts of dialogue employed, happy endings occasionally instituted, songs cut, shifted and given to different characters; by now, the number of versions of Chess challenges that of Show Boat and Candide. Perhaps because no version has become the permanent one and no staging has been a big financial success, Chess has also had a major concert life. That the work was comfortable in concert was evident right from the start, with a tour starring Paige, Head and Korberg that preceded the London production and was a smashing success. Both that concert and one with Kuhn, Head and Korberg made for exciting telecasts on Swedish tv. Another concert version was aired on Dutch TV, while another received a double CD recording.

The concert version presented as a Broadway Cares/Equity Fight AIDS benefit on May 10 and 17 at the John Houseman Theater was not the first amazing original Broadway cast reunion presented at Carnegie Hall just six months after the Broadway production folded. The recent one, featuring a hard-driving seven-piece band under the direction of co-producer Neil Berg, emphasized the rockish aspects of the music; if several numbers ("Mountain Duet", "Anthem") were deprived of the lyricism they should have, it was a high-powered reading.
Alice Ripley & Robert Evan @Bruce Glikas
With four major New York productions in a calendar year (King David, Side Show, Li'l Abner, Chess) to her credits, Alice Ripley has become a leading lady to be reckoned with. Although she was cast as Svetlana, she was also given "Someone Else's Story" and "Heaven Help My Heart", which usually belong to Florence (the songs, not the story, so this was not a problem); Ripley was riveting in everything she did. Building up Svetlana was just as well, for Christiane Noll, while a fine singer with many superb passages here, was not quite right for Florence.

Robert Evan, Alice Ripley (pictured right)
Michael Cerveris, Brian d'Arcy James (below)

photos by Bruce Glikas

Michael Cerveris & Brian d'Arcy James @Bruce Glikas

Co-producer Robert Evan (who sings Jekyll/Hyde opposite Noll at Wednesday and Saturday matinees) was a mostly strong Anatoly, while Brian d'Arcy James was a terrific Freddy, tearing the place apart with "Pity the Child" (known in the trade as "Pity the Singer". His fellow Titanic lead Michael Cerveris was a warm narrator and sang the "Story of Chess" prologue gloriously. Raymond Jaramillo McLeod made beautiful sounds as Molokov, and Danny Zolli was the animated Arbiter. Restoring several of the original songs ("Merano," "Embassy Lament") dropped for Broadway, this was a spirited concert, one that reaffirmed the potency of the Andersson-Ulvaeus-Rice score.

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