"The Story of Chess" - Michael Cerveris
Michael Cerveris, Christiane Noll
Brian d'Arcy James, Rob Evan
photo by Bruce Glikas
Chess Benefit Cast
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
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
Benefit Concert Report
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 dArcy 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), Nobodys
On Nobodys 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 Elses Story and Heaven
Help My Heart.
Its not about one person coming out as a star,
Ripley agreed. You can interchange [Svetlana and Florences]
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
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.
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 Paiges
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
Id never heard anyone sing like that, Ripley said,
citing Paiges 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
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. Its unique.
Its 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
May 29, 1998
photo by Bruce Glikas
First Act: Ken Mandelbaum's Buzz
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
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
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.