‘Chess The Musical’ is a Product of its Times – Review

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It is clear that, ‘Chess The Musical‘, was written through the cocaine fueled early 80s and why this is rarely performed nearly five decades later.

Rezia Landers as Florence in, ‘Chess The Musical’ performed by the American Coast Theater Company on the campus of Vanguard University.

Chess The Musical‘, performed by the American Coast Theater Company and directed by Susan K. Berkompas at Vanguard University was marvelously acted. Rezia Landers rightfully commanded the role of Florence, demonstrating a depth that anchored the production. One easy line change that would have kept audience members from questioning her casting as a Hungarian refugee in England would have been stating that her mother was of mixed British-Nigerian heritage, especially with the character having been born in the early 1950s as Eastern Europe was quite homogenous.

Yasmine Reid and featured dancer, Christina Rose shone brightly amidst the ensemble. Sadly, and this is the problem created by the original writers, ABBA members Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice, was the constant overlapping songs turned what could have been a poignant Cold War drama into a dissonant cacophony of harmonic jumble. The Gen Z male performers, though earnest in their efforts, lacked the ruggedness and gravitas required to convincingly portray characters steeped in Cold War-era masculinity. Their performances felt more akin to a modern-day introspective rather than the bold posturing demanded by the historical context. Essentially needing a lot more, ‘Rambo‘ and far less, ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’

The ensemble cast of, ‘Chess The Musical’ performed by the American Coast Theater Company on the campus of Vanguard University.

As exceptionally talented Scott Roberts is, his Frederick Trumper is far more Andrew Tate womanizer instead of a brash Harrison Ford loner, more fitting for the origins of the character. Josh Martin’s Anatoly Sergievsky is also well performed but not as rigid as one would expect from a Cold War era Soviet who takes his rival’s lover while cheating on his wife and children.

Furthermore, one cultural inaccuracy was glaring; performers portraying Russians inexplicably made the Sign of the Cross in the Catholic manner (left to right) instead of the Orthodox tradition (right to left), a detail that should have been easily corrected especially in a setting like Vanguard University, a Christian institution.

(center) Scott Roberts as Frederick Trumper in, ‘Chess The Musical’ performed by the American Coast Theater Company on the campus of Vanguard University.

Chess The Musical‘s relentless reliance on sung dialogue and melodrama may have suited its era but now feels exhausting in a sober world. While the ambition of the ABBA songwriters and Rice’s lyrical prowess is evident, the creator’s product left much to be desired in storytelling. Berkompas is a fantastic director. Choir director, Sarah Grandpre was elated with the performers, but the problem with the product has nothing to do with the American Coast Theater Company, but the original creators.

Chess The Musical‘ showcased exceptional talent amidst a sea of an over complicated musical that was a product of its drug induced era. Landers and select performers managed to salvage moments of brilliance, particularly with the exceptional song and dance stylings. However, the overall experience left me exhausted.

The American Coast Theater Company  next show will be ‘An Inspector Calls‘, running from June 21 to June 30, 2024.

The American Coast Theater Company Performs at The Lyceum Theater
Vanguard University (PARKING IS FREE)
55 Fair Dr, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

3.8

Summary

Chess The Musical‘ is wonderfully performed by a fantastic theater company of a horrible musical with completely irredeemable characters.

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