Grosse Pointe Theatre makes smart move with production of ‘Chess’

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 20, 2016

 From left, Brock McKinley, Trevor Sherry and David Roberts rehearse a scene from Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of “Chess, the Musical.”

From left, Brock McKinley, Trevor Sherry and David Roberts rehearse a scene from Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of “Chess, the Musical.”

Photo by Dale Pegg, provided by Grosse Pointe Theatre

GROSSE POINTES — Chess might seem to be an unlikely topic for a musical, but as conceived by lyricist Tim Rice and ABBA musicians Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, this board game for intellectuals serves as a strong platform for a story about Cold War passion and political intrigue.

“Chess, the Musical” — a Grosse Pointe Theatre production that will be staged through Jan. 30 at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial — is about the rivalry between a driven Russian chess champion, Anatoly Sergievsky, and his bold American competitor, chess grandmaster Freddie Trumper. Florence Vassy, a Hungarian-American female chess second to Trumper, further complicates the dynamics between these men when she falls in love with Anatoly. David Roberts of Clinton Township plays Anatoly, opposite Jose Cabrera of Harper Woods as Freddie and Sandria Haney of Southfield as Florence. 

The cast also includes F. Scott Davis of Royal Oak, Brock McKinley of Grosse Pointe Farms, Robert Daniel of Grosse Pointe Park, Stan Harr of Grosse Pointe Shores, Kirsten Renas of Warren, Trevor Sherry of Clinton Township and Timothy Higgins of Royal Oak, who is serving as the assistant director as well. The ensemble consists of Courtney Bocci of Grosse Pointe Park, Harry Burkey of Grosse Pointe Woods, Erin Ann and Peter DiSante of St. Clair Shores, Anne Maters of Grosse Pointe City, Allison McClelland of Grosse Pointe Park, Michael McDowell-Parker of Grosse Pointe Woods, Ashlee McKinley of Grosse Pointe Farms, Amanda Nummy of Shelby Township, Peter Owens of Grosse Pointe Farms, Erin Steinhauser of Grosse Pointe City, Kimme Suchyta of Detroit, Eddie Tujaka of Grosse Pointe Farms and Rachel Settlage of Grosse Pointe City. Settlage is also the choreographer.

As the assistant director, Higgins is working with director Lois Bendler of St. Clair Shores to bring her vision for the show to life. Bendler, a member of Grosse Pointe Theatre for more than 40 years, has previously helmed many other shows that tackle social and political issues, including “The Exonerated” and “Doubt: A Parable.” 

“Chess” made its stage debut in 1986 and has been made into countless variations since. Higgins said Bendler wanted to mount one of the concert versions of the show, which means a “minimal set” and changes in place and time conveyed using images shown through rear-screen projections that also help to set the mood.

“The concert version focuses on the wonderful music and this incredible score,” Higgins said.

It was the music that drew Cabrera, who called this a “singers’ show.” He was also eager to work with “another great team” at GPT, and to explore the character of Freddie.

“Freddie is brash and unexpected and cocky and arrogant,” Cabrera said. “Freddie is someone who does what he wants whenever he wants” and doesn’t consider the consequences.

Haney, likewise, loved not only the music, but also her character, a woman unlike the “cute ingénue” who’s so common in musicals.

“It’s fun to play a wide range of emotions,” Haney said. “There aren’t a lot of meaty, interesting parts for women (in musical theater).” She said Florence is “real and damaged,” a woman who falls for the wrong man. Haney said the show is “quite challenging” vocally and emotionally.

The cast and crew hope audiences take advantage of this rare opportunity to see “Chess.”

“It’s not a show that you see regularly,” Harr said. “It could be a once-in-a-lifetime theatrical experience.”

Although the actors weren’t required to learn how to play chess, “We did ask them to make sure that their moves were authentic,” Higgins said.

However, Haney said the show is “not about chess.” It is, instead, about the emotional games people play.

“It’s a very intelligent piece,” Higgins said. “You have to listen to what’s going on.”

Roberts said he hopes the show strikes a chord with audiences.

“This is … gritty and hard-hitting,” he said. “It’s very true to life.”

GPT productions are staged at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, 32 Lake Shore Road in Grosse Pointe Farms. Tickets cost $24. For tickets or more information, call (313) 881-4004 or visit www.gpt.org.