There’s a wryly energetic thrust to “Chess,” being revived by East West Players in an imaginative production that certainly puts its own spin on this problematic concept album-turned-popera.
Here we get the almost through-sung U.K. version (Richard Nelson’s book is virtually interjections). This favors the show’s enduring asset: Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice’s soaring, wailing score.
Director Tim Dang stylishly maneuvers his stalwart, multicultural players around set designer Adam Flemming’s levels and arches, aided by Flemming’s videos and Dan Weingarten’s spectacular lighting. The approach, like costumer Anthony Tran’s sly wardrobe choices, merges witty invention with winking kitsch, as in “One Night in Bangkok.” Musical director Marc Macalintal and choreographer Marc Oka, deploying smaller forces than the piece was composed for, do yeoman work to keep the senses engaged.
Wonderful Joan Almedilla, as American chess second Florence, has spine-tingling power, together with Elijah Rock’s resonant, if curiously un-accented, Russian champion Anatoly and plangent Carey Rebecca Brown’s abandoned Svetlana making “Mountain Duet” and “I Know Him So Well” high points.
Ryan Castellino gives the puckish Arbiter his all, and Victor E. Chan is valiant as bad-boy American prodigy Freddie, although taxed by the treacherous tessitura. Michael Alexander Henry and Ray A. Rochelle as, respectively, American media and KGB agents, almost steal the show, and the surrounding ensemble has a blast.
Their fervor nearly obscures the fact that the property’s Reagan-era metaphors and old-school romantic triangle are dated and hollow. Still, devotees of this perennially adventurous company should flock. “Glee” and “Smash” fans will be enraptured.
“Chess,” David Henry Hwang Theater, 120 Judge John Aiso St., L.A. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. End June 9. $51-$56. (213) 625-7000 or www.eastwestplayers.org. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.