SDSU performers present ‘Chess: In Concert’

“Chess: In Concert” will be presented virtually Dec. 3-6. (photo by Robert Meffe)

SDSU performers present ‘Chess: In Concert’

The San Diego State University (SDSU) School of Theatre, Television and Film’s Musical Theatre program will webcast its production of “Chess: In Concert” Dec. 3-6. 

The entire show was rehearsed virtually, with only one week of in-person (safety precautions in place) rehearsals with eight actors on the stage of the Don Powell Theatre. The rest was captured in a combination of home audio and home and video to record ensemble members as well as the SDSU Chorus and SDSU Symphony Orchestra. The production was lit by MFA designers and recorded by film and TV students. 

The graduate student actors in “Chess: In Concert” have major Broadway credits to their name. The subject matter of this show is relevant, too: political intrigue, changing sides and asking the question, “What does it mean to love your country, but oppose how it is led?” 

Featuring more than 100 San Diego State University students, “Chess: In Concert” will be available for digital streaming from Dec. 3 to 6.

“Chess” was written by Tim Rice, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.

Because of the pandemic, new and innovative strategies were implemented to allow safe collaboration while still following SDSU and California Governor Gavin Newsom’s guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Student actors were filmed in a six-camera shoot by TV/Film students. That footage will be combined with individually filmed ensemble material and audio recordings from the SDSU Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Choir to create a production for internet streaming.

“Producing a show of this scale during a pandemic has been a challenge, but also wonderfully exciting,” said Director Stephen Brotebeck. “The collaborative spirit is high, and everyone involved is dedicated to creating the best piece of musical theatre that we can do under these circumstances. It may look a little different, and creating it has definitely been different, but we are eager to share the talents of our SDSU students in both the School of Theatre, Television and Film and the School of Music and Dance to an even larger audience than normal, given that everyone can enjoy this production of ‘Chess: In Concert’ from the comfort and safety of their homes.”

The collaborators on “Chess” are giants of rock music and rock musicals, and here they have created a complex rock opera that played to full Broadway houses and standing ovations. In this musical, the ancient game becomes a metaphor for romantic rivalries, competitive gamesmanship, super-power politics, and international intrigues. The pawns in this drama form a love triangle: the loutish American chess star, the earnest Russian champion, and a Hungarian American female assistant who arrives at the international chess match in Bangkok with the American, but falls for the Russian. From Bangkok to Budapest the players, lovers, politicians and spies manipulate and are manipulated to the pulse of a monumental rock score that includes “One Night in Bangkok” and “Heaven Help My Heart.”

MFA Musical Theatre graduate students filming “Chess: In Concert.” (photo by Robert Meffe)

The principal cast features MFA Musical Theatre graduate students whose collective work spans Broadway, international and regional/local productions. The 2022 class includes Julio Catano, Victoria Fowler, Kyle Montgomery, Casey Craig, Christopher Shin, Clinton Sherwood, Sheldon Gomabon and Melissa Glasgow.

Victoria Fowler, who starred as Elphaba in the National Tour of “Wicked,”plays Florence Vassy.

“Rehearsing for ‘Chess’ was unconventional, as it needed to be during these unconventional times,” Fowler said. “With the limited ability to be in the same room at the same time, we came up with creative ways of learning the music and working through acting beats on Zoom, both rehearsing live and recording things and sending them to each other. It was then up to each actor individually to learn and rehearse their role so all the puzzle pieces fit once we could finally physically get together. It was surprisingly successful considering the newness of it all, and in the end, I think we came out with something we can be proud of that’s entertaining, beautiful and innovative.”

For tickets, to SDSU’s “Chess: In Concert,” visit the School of Theatre, Television and Film website: https://ttf.sdsu.edu/events/chess-in-concert.

“Chess: In Concert” is a part of the Arts Alive SDSU Discovery Series. There will be a free, interdisciplinary panel conversation about the themes in the show on Thursday, Dec. 3 at 2 p.m. The panel will focus on the relationship between Cold War defections and current issues of immigration. Individuals can register to attend this free panel here: http://newscenter.sdsu.edu/events/calendar.aspx?trumbaEmbed=view%3Devent%26eventid%3D149554039

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