By Jim Roberts
If the mark of a good chess player is the ability to see and plan many moves ahead, Shon M. Stacy may qualify as a grand master with his staging of “Chess,” the musical.
While he’s ruminated on the show since he heard the music as a teen-ager, he’s been working on it in earnest for the last year and has even had the show blocked for about eight months. Casting took place in early April, and it will open on June 28 at Norfolk’s Generic Theater.
Fair warning: Even though the music was written by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, the show is dark.
“I don’t like to do the happy musicals,” Stacy told Veer Magazine. “Not to give anything away, but this isn’t the thing where the couple runs away together at the end of it and they’re happy in love forever and ever. It’s just not that. And I’m OK with it. I like that level of storytelling.”
The show, originally staged in 1986, uses an international chess tournament as an allegory for the Cold War. “It just happens to be set in 1979 and 1980,” Stacy said, “but I could take ’79 and ’80 out of it, and it would still be relevant today. … It’s really about using something so simple as chess, and once you muddle it with politics and other egos and manipulation, it alters something. And that’s just a timeless tale.”
The 15-member cast includes Michael Ashby as “the American,” Jonathan McCormick as “the Russian,” Angelica Michelle as Florence and Tara Moscopulos as Svetlana. “There’s a lot of fun surprises and talent in this cast,” Stacy said. “I could go on all day about them.”
The show also features a 26-piece orchestra and a 20-voice choir, though it may grow to as many as 24 by opening night. Stacy credits Karla D. Robinson, the show’s musical director and conductor, with bringing them all together. “I can’t say enough about Karla and what she’s brought to the table,” he said. “Karla and I have built a beautiful, symbiotic relationship together, and I couldn’t do a show without that.”
The orchestra will be featured on stage. “I think if you’re going to have something of this size and magnitude, it’s a treat,” Stacy said, “and we need to share it and not hide it. … I tell the cast all the time: They need to really treasure having a show with an orchestra this size.”
Stacy hasn’t directed since the critically acclaimed “Assassins” in 2017.
“I don’t think they can be compared, but I hope people like the essence of what I do,” he said. “You’re going to see beautifully clean staging. You’re going to see good pacing. You’re going to get good tempo. You’re going to see actors who are delivering lines ‘behind the eyes’—not just saying the lines just to say it. I’m really big on character development. I really try to do choreography that tells a story, rather than just doing step touches. I hope that that kind of brand sets this up.”
Here begins Stacy’s endgame.
“This show is a beast,” he said, “and it’s crazy. It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s been a challenge. It’s been an absolute challenge. But I hope it pays off, and I’m sure it will.”
And the inevitable checkmate: “It’s just going to be the summer thing not to miss out on,” he said. “It’s going to be a hell of a ride. I can’t wait to play.”
Generic Theater will present “Chess” from June 28 through July 21. Showtimes are 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $18 for adults; $15 for students, seniors and military; and $13 for groups of 10 or more. For tickets or more information, visit: generictheater.org.