Gale Edwards' Production of Chess is without a doubt one of the best shows of the year and has to be one of the greatest of the show since its West End opening in 1986. Often maligned for its over-complicated drawn out story, Edwards version is so expertly put together that every moment is so clear and precise, executed by one of the most talented group of principals assembled on an Australian stage. Benny Andersson and Bjorn's Ulvaeus' ridiculously difficult score is laden with some of the more gorgeous melodies coupled with driving rock rhythms and powerful lyrics courtesy of Tim Rice.
Silvie Paladino headlines the cast as Florence Vassy and matches her perfect vocal quality with the passion and grit required for her character. Playing opposite her is the vocally sublime Simon Gleeson as "the Russian"Anatoly Sergievsky. Gleeson's acting performance matches his vocal quality and it is in his performance of Where I Want To Be rather than the more famous Anthem that he truly shines. Martin Crewes soars in the role of "The American" Frederick Trumper. Without doubt one of the most challenging vocal roles in music theatre, Crewes belts out note after note throughout the night culminating in his vocal highlight Pity The Child. Crewes' drive and commitment throughout, matched with his very arrogant and likeable swagger make him one of the nights highlights. As the Arbiter, Michael Falzon revels in the demands of this role. His effortless vocal performance was equally matched by his confident demeanour in a particularly impressive performance. Mark Dickinson is another of the nights true highlights as Russian delegate and powerbroker Molokov. His performance is particularly powerful and menacing and he captures the essence of the polical tension perfectly. Playing his opposite is Bert Lebonte as American powerbroker Walter de Courcey. Labonte inserts all the charm and wit required in this role, with both men successfulloy manipulating Florence, the ultimate pawn in the bigger political game taking place before us. As Svetlana Sergievskaya, Alinta Chidzey doesnt quite embody the true courage and passion that is required of her character, with her opening moment in Act II Someone Else's Story failing to display the desperation that the moment required.
While the Choreography from Tony Bartuccio was executed beautifully by the dancing ensemble, it seemed at times a little too "Musical Theatre" for the piece. Opening Act II, One Night In Bangkok, was a visual feast and captured the true essense of The East. The ensemble as a whole work brilliantly together, crafting a flawless vocal and physical performance throughout.
As musical director, David Piper lead Orchestra Victoria superbly. Their rich quality mixed with the contemporay sounds of Andersson and Ulvaeus' score was a pleasure to the ear all evening. Coupled with this was the sound design by System Sound. The Sound was perfectly balanced throughout the evening and added to the precision of the performance and the telling of such a complicated story. As Lighting designers, Paul Jackson and Robert Cuddon deliver a gorgeous array of colour, subtly lifting scene after scene with their very clever plot.
Without doubt The Production Company's Chess is not to be missed. It is Music Theatre at its very best. Performances are of the highest order and the direction is some of the most memorable in really telling a story well. What will remain is the lasting impression of just how fantastic this show is when it is done right and this was one of the few occassions since its inception when it was as close to perfect as you could imagine it could get. Bravo!
Chess plays Arts Centre Melbourne through Sunday, August 26, 2012.