Chess and WSS in DC

Speaking of Chita, I zipped to our nation’s capital to see a couple of special theatrical events.  The first was the National Symphony performing a truncated concert version of West Side Story.  This almost nonsensical rendition decimated the story to the point that many people couldn’t figure out what was happening!  But it did underline the genius of Leonard Bernstein’s score and Stephen Sondheim’s words.  One expected that an entire symphony orchestra and some of Broadway’s finest young talents would deliver a high-wattage evening, but everything was on a low simmer and never came to a boil.  It was West Side Story Lite – although the staging by Francesca Zambello kept things moving.  In a typical production in a small house, these voices would likely have been fine.  But, given the sound mix, nobody quite rose to the level of the event.  A missed opportunity, indeed.

The following night, I saw the latest revision of the musical Chess, with a new book by Danny Strong and direction by Michael Mayer.  And once again, an all-star cast was on hand, led with aplomb by Raúl Esparza playing Freddy.  While I missed his acerbic take as the Arbiter (the role he played in Seth Rudetsky’s Broadway concert version in 2003), there’s no denying he’s a terrific Freddy, with rock star abandon and swagger balancing out the quieter bipolar moments.  It was a magnetic performance.  Ramin Karimloo may be the best all-around Anatoly I’ve ever seen – complete with a consistent Russian accent!  As Florence, Karen Olivo showed us exactly what was missing from the previous night.  She’s not lost any power, bite, or presence since her 2009 Tony-winning Anita in WSS.  For me, Ruthie Ann Miles was the weakest link.  Her Svetlana looked like a refugee from the mid-90s Moscow bus and truck tour of Miss Saigon – as the matinee cover for Kim!  Was she bad?  No – just not up to the standard of her colleagues.  The theatre had electricity in the air.  Every entrance, every number, every moment was met with a roar of applause, making it quite an “event”.  Has Strong fixed the show?  Nope – he’s solved some problems, but created others.  After seeing this, I’m more certain than ever that a perfect Chess is impossible.  But it’s still a helluva great evening of theatre.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Copying content from is prohibited