New Conservatory Theater Center, 25 Van Ness (near Market), S.F.
Through April 29. Tickets are $18-22; call 861-8972.
Chess tells the story of the game and the people who simultaneously play it and are played by it. Pitting an American chess champion against a Russian contender in the world championship may make Chess seem like a period piece from the Cold War, but its strength lies in the emotional histories of the participants playing out against a backdrop of international mistrust. Love, power, money, and politics manipulate the contestants, moving them about like pawns.
Sung in concert with a minimal set, this production lacks the lavishness of the original London version. But competent direction by George Quick, using movement and backlit character tableaus, more than compensates. The exceptional cast delivers the music with strength and passion. Corrie Borris, as Florence, does justice to the role created by Elaine Paige on the London stage and remastered by Judy Kuhn in New York. Alexander Brose, as Freddie, is perfect as the arrogant American champion, revealing the character as an emotional cripple when he sings his story ("Pity the Child"). Noel Anthony Escobar, as Anatoly, the Russian contender, brings the house down with his anthem "Crossing Borders." Flush with rich emotional ballads and duets, the show makes it difficult to choose favorites. Want to get reacquainted with your emotional side? Take your pick: "Heaven Help My Heart." "I Know Him So Well." "You and I." "Nobody's Side." It's your move.