Chess

March 7 – April 25, 2010

8:00 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays with dinner at 7:00 p.m.  Doors open at 6:45 p.m.
7:00 p.m. Sundays with dinner at 6:00 p.m.  Doors open at 5:45 p.m.

 

Co-directed by Fred Anzevino and Brenda Didier

Choreography by Brenda Didier
Music Direction by
Ryan Brewster
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, formerly of ABBA
Book by Richard Nelson

Chess involves a romantic triangle between two top players, an American and a Russian, in a world chess championship, and a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other.  The subtext of the play is the Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union.  The concept album was released in 1984, and the musical production originally opened in London in 1986.  A much altered Broadway production opened in 1988.  The rock musical became a cult classic, and One Night in Bangkok was released as a single in 1984 and became a world-wide hit.

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Background

Chess was originally conceived in the early 1980s when the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States was in full bloom.  International chess tournaments became propaganda vehicles for both countries with such grandmasters as Bobby Fisher from the United States and Victor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov from the Soviet Union.  The protagonists in the play don’t represent a specific individual, but they are loosely based on these international chess celebrities.

Jeremy Trager as Anatoly, the Soviet Union contender; John B. Leen as Molokov, Anatoly’s second; Maggie Portman as Florence, the center of the love triangle and Freddie’s second; and Courtney Crouse, as the United States contender in Theo Ubique

A highly successful concept album of Chess was released in 1984. The first theatrical production of Chess opened in London’s West End in 1986 and played for three years. A much-altered U.S. version with a new book by Richard Nelson premièred on Broadway in 1988, but survived only two months. No major revival production of the musical has been attempted, although Benny Andersson told London’s The Stage newspaper last September that plans are under way for a major revival of Chess on Broadway, but this is not officially confirmed.

Theo Ubique is producing Chess for the first time in the Chicago area since 1990, when the Marriott Theatre produced it.  Directed by David H. Bell and starring Susie McMonagle, David Studwell and Kim Strauss, the Marriott Theatre version featured another reworking of the Nelson script.

History

Tim Rice had long wanted to create a musical about the Cold War; and in 1979, he had the idea to tell the story through the prism of the American-Soviet chess rivalry since his fascination by the political machinations of the 1972 “Match of the Century” between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. Andrew Lloyd Webber was Rice’s usual collaborator, but Webber was busy at the time with the musical Cats, so he turned to Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA.  Rice met with the two for the first time in December 1981 in Stockholm to discuss the concept, and they quickly signed on to the project.

Throughout 1983, Rice, Andersson and Ulvaeus worked on the music and lyrics. It was decided to release the music as an album before any stage show was underway, and songs by the protagonists were sung by Murray Head as the “American” and Tommy Körberg as the “Russian.”  The part of Florence was sung by Elaine Paige, while the part of Svetlana, the Russian’s wife, was sung by Barbara Dickson.  The resulting album, a double LP, was released worldwide in the fall of 1984.

A single from the album, One Night in Bangkok, performed by Murray Head (in verses) and Anders Glenmark (in chorus) became a worldwide smash, also reaching No.3 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The duet I Know Him So Well by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson held the Number One spot on the UK singles charts for four weeks and won the Ivor Novello Award as the Best Selling Single. It was later covered by Whitney Houston and her mother Cissy on Whitney’s second album Whitney, and by Barbra Streisand on her 1992 Highlights from Just for the Record.

The concert version of the Chess album was premiered by the original cast in London’s Barbican Centre on October 27, 1984; then performed in Hamburg, Amsterdam and Paris with the final presentation November 1 in Berwaldhallen in Stockholm.

The musical Chess premièred in the Prince Edward Theatre in London on May 14, 1986 and closed April 8, 1989. The London version was a massive physical production, with estimated costs up to $12 million. It expanded the storyline of the concept album, adding considerable new recitative, and attracted several West End stars during its three year run.  The production won the 1986 London Critics’ Theatre Award for Best Musical, and received three 1986 Laurence Olivier Award nominations

The Broadway version was originally set to be directed by Michael Bennett, but he withdrew for health reasons. He only did so, however, after casting the show and commissioning the expansive set and costume designs. Trevor Nunn stepped in, who shepherded the show on to its scheduled opening. The London version was a massive physical production, with estimated costs up to $12 million. It expanded the storyline of the concept album, adding considerable new recitative, and attracted several West End stars during its three year run.  The production won the 1986 London Critics’ Theatre Award for Best Musical, and received three 1986 Laurence Olivier Award nominations

After London, the creative team decided that the show had to be reimagined from the top down. Trevor Nunn brought in playwright Richard Nelson (a Chicago native) to recreate the musical as a straight forward “book show.”  Nunn brought in new, younger principals after he disqualified Paige from the role of Florence by insisting Nelson recreate the character as an American. The story changed drastically, with different settings, characters and many different plot elements, although the basic plot remained the same. The changes required the score to be reordered, and comparisons of the Broadway cast recording and the original concept album reveal the dramatic extent of the changes. The Broadway production picked up several major award nominations: five Drama Desk Award nominations, one Tony Award nomination and a Grammy Award nomination.

In 2001, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle Tim Rice commented, “It may sound arrogant, but Chess is as good as anything I’ve ever done.”

Source:  Wikipedia



Thank you to the Illinois Chess Association for assistance with counsel, props, chess blitzes and talk-back session for our production of Chess.