Written by 10:58 pm Costa Mesa, Musical, Review, Theater, Uncategorized, Vanguard Uni

American Coast Theater Company presents: Chess the Musical @ Vanguard University – Review

Written by Alina Mae Wilson

Chess the Musical is a sung-through production about Soviet-US tensions during the final days of a world chess championships. It contains grandiose songs by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus (of the pop group ABBA) and a book by Tim Rice. The story focuses on the spiteful politics of two nations’ determination to prove their superiority through what is probably the most famous game of strategy in the history of the world. With intricacies in the plot regarding bribes/blackmail and songs as vocally demanding as “Where I Want to Be” and “Nobody’s Side” (as well as a host of others), Chess is the sort of Musical that takes a powerhouse singing cast to even begin to make it tolerable, let alone enjoyable.

By the way, it’s definitely possible to do so; it’s just a gargantuan task. Vanguard University’s cast and crew stepped up to the challenge with confidence and talent.


At the height of Cold War tensions, grandmasters Freddie Trumper (US) and Anatoly Sergievsky (USSR) are preparing to face off in the World Chess Championship. While preparing to defend his title, Trumper’s loud and abrasive comments are viewed as unsportsmanlike, not an asset to “East-West relations.” While trying to ease tensions between both sides, Trumper’s second Florence Vassy becomes entangled in what is essentially a battle of egos, if not between two men, then between two countries. In a befitting parallel of the actual game they’re being paid to play, all three characters are poked and prodded along, pawns for the national entities they represent.


First, the most enjoyable aspects of the night: The actors were good. The leads were clearly capable of singing. Everything about Scott Roberts, from his singing voice to the life he brings Trumper’s explosive rants, works for the character. As Trumper’s Russian counterpart Anatoly Sergievsky, Josh Martin displays a beautiful, booming voice that leaves no wonder as to why he was cast. Likewise, Rezia Landers has a charming presence as chess second/romantic interest Florence Vassy. Everyone is putting their effort into the show, and as capable singers, some of the songs do grip your attention. Some of the relationships do not. I don’t want to give too much away, but characters are given choices and face pressures in this show that, to be honest, I don’t find their relationships deep enough to yield such pressure.

Set Design:

The set was nice. Vanguard University’s Lyceum Theater is cozy, with somewhat limited space. Still, it had the obligatory chessboard flooring, and there seemed to be a good amount of movement during the faster-paced musical numbers, such as “The Arbiter.”

What was less enjoyable than the soloists and the charmingly appropriate chess floor was the overall sound of the show. While, as previously mentioned, the cast can sing, most of the ensemble’s microphones sounded fuzzy and soft during the show. It was hard to hear what the background performers were singing, and this was frustrating given the general use of background as “setting the scene.”

7.8 Overall
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Set & Design8.3
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