By Steven Stanley
September 18, 2008

 Those who attended last night’s Chess benefit (for Broadway Cares Equity
Fights AIDS) expecting “just a concert” were in for a dazzling surprise.  What
had been advertised as “Chess in Concert” turned out to be a fully staged,
fully choreographed, fully off-book production of the 80s Broadway hit.  And
what a production it was!

Starting with the orchestra—27 musicians led by musical director
extraordinaire Dan Redfeld.  And the choir—17 glorious voices. The overture
(music by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus) sounded absolutely
gorgeous, and that was only the beginning.

Next, there was the spectacular cast, led by Kevin Earley (in his usual best-
there-is voice) and Cindy Robinson (singing in a voice three times her size) as,
respectively, Anatoly, the Russian chess champ and Florence, the woman who
steals his heart away from his wife Svetlana (top billed Susan Egan, who made
us wait till Act 2 to hear her Broadway pipes, but it was worth the wait.)  Earley
clearly was having a ball playing Russian and not his usual All American good
guy. Robinson and Egan’s duet of I Know Him So Well, the show’s best known
ballad, brought the house down, and had audience members reaching for
their Kleenex.  Completing the lead quartet was Ty Taylor as Freddie, the
American chess champ, who added an R&B quality to his numbers, and a
chiseled physique to boot.

Broadway hottie/heartthrob Matthew Morrison (as the tournament ref) won a
huge ovation for his singing/dancing/sizzling The Arbiter.  Tom Schmid (Walter)
and Thomas Ian Griffith (Molokov) did fine work as well, and were in fine voice.

The biggest surprise of the evening was AC Ciulla’s spectacular choreography
(and this was advertised as a “concert”), especially in the two chess ballets.  
With dancers garbed half in black and half in white (snaps to costumer Vandy
Scoates for leaving the males bare-torsoed), the two chess matches featured
balletic and acrobatic moves that had the audience gasping, and cheering.

Credit all of this to the brilliant direction of Brian Michael Purcell, who turned
what even the cast members thought would be a simple concert staged
reading of Chess into a production which could (with the addition of sets)
easily transfer to the Ahmanson or Pantages.

With its sensational lead performances, amazingly voiced ensemble, and
dazzling dancers, Chess (not really in concert) proved to be among the most
memorable of evenings, ever!

Chess In Concert--Ford Amphitheatre, Hollywood.  September 17, 2007