Robert Evan, the matinee Jekyll & Hyde, contrived a little "night work" for himself and his friends, and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is benefitting -- to the tune of $39,400. That's the total raised from two consecutive Sunday night sets of Chess, which Evan and musical conductor Neil Berg co-produced at the John Houseman Theatre.
May 17, after the second of the two concerts, an oversized check for that amount was presented to BC/EFA representatives Tom Viola, Maria DiDia and Peter Neufield by the event's sponsors (who also included Eric Krebs, Joseph Grano Jr. and Bruce Roberts).
Evan, who played the lead role of the Russian chess player Anatoly, came up with the idea of this concert a few years ago after he and Berg had participated in a similar rendering of Jesus Christ Superstar to benefit The Helen Hayes Theatre in Nyack, N.Y.
Casting this Chess wasn't a problem for Evan. "I literally called my friends, so who you saw performing were all my friends," he admits. "I've done shows with everybody on stage tonight. I think I tapped into a good thing. We updated the musical a little bit. I think what I put together was a young, hip, trendy new Broadway regime of the new stars of Broadway, and that's what I was excited about. It was, like, 'Definitely, I'll do it!'"
The role of Evan's American chess opponent, Freddie, was essayed on the 10th by Titanic's Brian d'Arcy James and on the 17th by The Scarlet Pimpernel's Dave Clemmons. The rest of the roles were singularly cast: Michael (Tommy) Cerveris as The Narrator, Christiane (Jekyll & Hyde) Noll as Florence, Danny (Jesus Christ Superstar) Zolli as The Arbiter, Alice (Side Show) Ripley as Svetlana and Raymond Jaramillo (Jekyll & Hyde) McLeod as Molokov. Chess started amassing a highly vocal cult following almost immediately after its sadly short-lived Broadway run in 1987. A Cold-War story of love, betrayal and espionage against a backdrop of international chess competition, it boasted music by ABBA's Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, lyrics by Tim Rice and musical book by Richard Nelson. Its best-remembered pop hits included "I Know Him So Well" and "One Night in Bangkok."
This concert rendering was considerably different from its Broadway presentation. "I would call it a high-energy, rock and roll approach that maintains passion and musicality of the show," said Berg. "I think everybody in the theatre community was, at one time, enamored by this music. It's just glorious.When I heard the score, I automatically knew the roots of the two guys from ABBA who wrote the score. What I wanted to do was to take the essence where I thought, rock and roll-wise and theatre-wise, it came from."
An actor in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Philip Hoffman, directed the concert. "It was interesting to look at the different versions, just to get a sense of where the emotional truth is," he said, "because it's a concert. We're not trying to fix the book or make anything happen. Really smart people worked on that, and they each had their own focus. Our focus was: Let's get together and sing the songs that make it theatrical. Make it rock and roll, but follow an emotional storyline that makes sense, like that original London album. People heard it and loved it even though they didn't understand all the facts."
-- By Harry Haun