The Public Reviews
Reviewer: Maggie Poppa
The Public Reviews Rating: 4/5
Chess could be described as a ‘Marmite Musical’ – you will probably either love it or hate it. But what is quite evident is that whether or not this is your favourite musical, Leeds Amateur Operatic Society has another successful production on their hands.
Thirty years ago Tim Rice discussed his idea to write a musical with the background of the Cold War with his partner of previous musical hits, Andrew Lloyd Webber. However their partnership was beginning to hit the rocks and so Rice carried the idea to Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus and an agreement to work together on the project was muted. Chess was originally released as a two record LP set, and the album was a Top 10 hit in the USA eighteen months before the stage production finally opened in 1986. Because of the eventual collaboration with these particular musicians from time to time the music has Abba-ish overtones but it is more operatic than many musicals and it’s this that makes it so successful.
This LAOS production is staged with a monochrome minimalist set comprising a chess board plus metal stairs and bridge, but the design works well and scenes revolve with the addition of sparse aluminium seating and sofas. Back projection successfully keeps the story rolling along and points the audience to understand where the action takes place.
Act One begins with the World Chess Championship taking place in Merano, Italy. We are introduced to the contenders – American Freddy Trumper (Alex Hogg) and Russian Anatoly Sergievsky (Fraser Wilkinson). Trumper’s second (and lover) is Florence Vassy (Gemma Durkin) and for the Soviet team her counterpart is Alexander Molokov (Terry Ford). Politics and chess compete for centre stage and towards the end the audience understandably could find it hard to keep up with the plot.
All of the starring roles are well handled but the audience is given a real treat at the end of Act One as Fraser Wilkinson sings The Anthem, and perhaps this is the song of the night even though in Act Two there is a well delivered version of I Know Him So Well. Of particular note is the perfect diction of Jacqueline Bell who plays Svetlana Sergievskaya, the Russian chess champion’s wife. However also worthy of praise is the LAOS chorus who perform with very tight harmonies, are well disciplined and are effectively choreographed throughout.
Runs until Saturday 17th March
Wharfedale Observer review
Reviewer: Val Pennett
What a show, and what an incredible production. Director/Choreographer Louise Denison at her very best. Every particle of this production has precision, timing, strength, power, love and hate, her clever choreography developing and representing the intricate story unfolding on stage.. A great set with back screen showing news bulletins of state of play etc. and an illuminated chess board installed on stage. How well used the stage is by the 60 strong Company in both singing and movement. They have to be seen to be believed.
The show is not just about a game of chess! “Everybody is playing the game, but nobody’s rules are the same”. It’s about the cold war era of the late 1970s to early 1980s. the World Chess championships, a Russian player and an American and the two women in their lives. The chess game is played and emotions and love run riot. Three of the leading players in the excellent cast have played principle roles in our local societies, Gemma Durkin with the Yeadon society, and Fraser Wilkinson and Terry Ford at Guiseley AOS. Terry a couple of weeks ago played Emile in South Pacific for them. In Chess he has the important role of the Russian Molokov, and his singing was strong and tuneful. Gemma and Fraser as the star crossed lovers give outstanding performances. As Hungarian born Florence Vassy, Gemma is stunning. This must be the best part she has played. She brings such depth of feeling to the role and her vocal ability is amazing. I loved ‘Heaven help my heart’ and ‘You and I’, What a partner she has in Fraser Wilkinson as the tormented Russian player, Anatoly Sergievsky. How Fraser has matured. A lovely sweet tenor voice has ripened into an amazingly powerful one. His singing of the well-known ‘Anthem’ left the audience breathless. A fine actor too, his heart rending scenes and singing in Act 2 with Gemma will long be remembered. Alex Hogg plays the angry American Freddie Trumper, trying to outwit his opponent, both in chess and love. He played Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar for the Leeds society, a very similar role, and brings the same fire and anger to the part.
Like the story, the music is powerful and strong, and the 17 piece orchestra, with Jim Lunt as Musical Director, do a brilliant job. There is no dialogue as such in the show and musically it is difficult, with the tempos and style of music changing rapidly as play moves from Italy to the West and to Bangkok. The audience are treated to the well-known musical numbers of ‘Merano’, ‘One Night in Bangkok’, and what is perhaps the best known number in the show, the haunting ‘I know him so well’, which is sung superbly by Jacqueline Bell and Gemma Durkin. Jacqueline plays Svetlana, the wife of Sergievsky, leaving home to try and save her marriage. There are also excellent performances from Ben Walton and Richard Blackburn. Costumes are colourful and varied with the recurring black and white chess theme fantastic. Lighting was imaginative and the only criticism I heard was that at times the orchestra were too loud. However this vibrant production is stunning and the depth of feeling that Louise Denison has brought alive on stage, together with this talented company , is overpowering.
The Society are to give the musical Guys and Dolls in September at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Councillor NODA North East Region
Will you please convey our congratulations and thanks to everyone connected with the mind blowing presentation of CHESS which Margaret and I were privileged to see last night. It was a blockbuster of a show from all aspects. To hear from the NODA President that 'this was the best show I have seen this year' was a very well deserved compliment. How can I better that ? Thank you once again for inviting us, for making us so welcome and for your generous hospitality.
Via our website - your reviews
I came to Leeds especially to see the Saturday matinee performance. I am a big fan of the musical Chess, and try to get to see it whenever I can. My friend and I really enjoyed the show. Right from the opening number of Merano the sound of both the orchestra and choir was excellent; well done. The staging was good too, and you managed to get substantial props like sofas onto the stage without my noticing.
Thanks again for a great afternoon.
Dear All at LAOS
On Friday my Mum and myself came to see your production of Chess, a favourite of mine as I have performed in the show many times. I would like to congratulate everyone on an absolutely Stunning!!! performance, it really was incredible, I have never seen an amateur show like it. The choreography, staging, lead vocals, and seamless harmonies were brilliant!! Im not sure you can call yourself amateurs it was that good and was professional level. Congratulations to everyone again I would love it if you could circle this message to the entire company.
Many thanks for a most enjoyable evening.
A group of ladies booked tickets to see Chess back in January, and although it is v easy to access the internet and get the story of the musical, we arrived with open minds ...and boy, were we blown away! Gemma Durkin and Fraser Wilkinson were outstanding. It was absolutely faultless and we all came away quite drained of the emotion that we had experienced by watching the performance. The cast was superb - love the fact that there were singers and dancers of all ages - def one for the older ladies. We will certainly look out for your next performance.
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Yorkshire Evening Post
Reviewer: Rod McPhee
Published on Friday 16 March 2012 12:48
I FELT a pang of genuine sympathy and admiration as the Leeds Amateur Operative Society took on this lame duck musical. Chess is arguably one of the most drawn-out and dull shows to have scraped its way into the pantheon of stage hits.
A recent national revival saw thousands of pounds lavished on an extravagant set and a cherry-picked cast of beautiful stars, but the production still didn’t make the grade. With that in mind, LAOS were never going to come close.
Still, there were some great performances from the likes of Fraser Wilkinson as Sergievsky, the Russian chess player who competes for the world title, and for the heart of Florence Vassy, who just so happens to be involved with his opponent, the American Frederick Trumper.
Gemma Durkin, as Vassy, put in a patchy show. Sometimes songs were obviously, uncomfortably out of her range while others, like the well-known duet I Know Him So Well, saw her shine.
Unfortunately lesser roles let other cast members shine more brightly. Richard Blackburn was masterful as The Arbiter and Jaqueline Bell was spine-tinglingly wonderful as Sergievsky’s wife.
But the inconsistent delivery and limited production only compounded the fact that they were on to a loser from the start.
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