One would think that the game of chess wouldn’t make for a good dramatic subject. However, throw in some Cold War politics, a character based on a quirky legend, and you have the makings of an interesting show. This is the premise of the musical Chess. Created by lyricist Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar) and Bjõrn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of ABBA fame, Chess explores the collision of politics and popular cultural. Think of it as the Summit Series without Paul Henderson.
Chess: Show Times
If Chess were a movie it might begin with a screenshot saying “inspired by true events.” In this case the events are the Fischer-Spassky World Chess Championship match of 1972.
The set for Chess is a platform that features a a raised dais with a chessboard on it. Most of the action however takes place on the stage in front of the platform. The fact that the chess board is towards the back of the stage is appropriate as the game itself is less important than the games that surround it.
At it’s heart the show is about loss and dislocation. Manipulation both on the national and personal scale also plays in to the show’s storyline. The three main characters of Frederick, Anatoly, and Florence deliver strong dramatic performances. The characters of Molokov and De Courcey are suitably oily and untrustworthy.
The chorus brings a great deal of energy to their performance, although their dancing was a little out of sync at times.
The singing for the performance were a little uneven. Most notably the two male leads of Frederick and Anatoly. Both singers struggled when the music required them to go into their upper registers. The American in particular lacked the ability to put across the anger that lies behind “Pity the Child.”
The character of Florence was particularly well sung with a clear, strong voice and an ability to get all the words across. The arbiter also sang well and might have been better suited for one of the leads. In a more limited role, the singer who sang the role of Svetlana, the wife of the Russian also gave a strong performance.
The musical highlight of Chess is to be found in the accompaniment. Pianist Rachel Cameron, and a drummer whose name I don’t have, managed to provide a full, orchestral style sound for the performance. They are particularly good in keeping going the energy and forward movement of the show.
If you are a fan of ABBA, you’ll enjoy Chess. You’ll also enjoy it, if you like anthemic style pop ballads. I wouldn’t put Chess as a must see, but would definitely encourage people to fit it in if they have room in their schedule.