Concept Album Cover
|Book||Tim Rice (West End)
Richard Nelson (Broadway)
|Productions||1984 European concert tour
1986 West End
1989 Carnegie Hall concert
1989 Skellefteå concert
1990 United States Tour
1994 Gothenburg concert
1995 Los Angeles
2001 Denmark tour
2003 Broadway concert
2005 Norway concert
2007 Los Angeles
2008 Cape Town
2008 London concert
2010 U.K. tour
Chess is a musical with music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, formerly of ABBA, and with lyrics by Tim Rice. The story involves a politically driven, Cold War-era chess tournament between two men—an American grandmaster and a Soviet grandmaster—and their fight over a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other. Although the protagonists were not intended to represent any real individuals, the character of the American grandmaster (named Freddie Trumper in the stage version) was loosely based on Bobby Fischer, while elements of the story may have been inspired by the chess careers of Russian grandmasters Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov.
Like several other productions, namely Jesus Christ Superstar and Cats, a highly successful concept album was released prior to the first theatrical production in order to raise money. In the case of Chess , the concept album was released in the fall of 1984 while the show opened in London's West End in 1986 where it played for three years. A much-altered U.S. version premiered on Broadway in 1988, but survived only for two months. Chess is frequently revised for new productions, many of which try to merge elements from both the British and American versions; however, no major revival production of the musical has yet been attempted either on West End or Broadway.
- 1 Development
- 2 Original album
- 3 Deluxe edition album
- 4 British stage version
- 5 American stage version
- 6 Miscellaneous productions, concerts, and recordings (1989–present)
- 6.1 List of miscellaneous productions, concerts, and recordings
- 6.1.1 1989: Carnegie Hall and Sweden
- 6.1.2 1990
- 6.1.3 1990: Australian (Sydney) version
- 6.1.4 1994: Palmerston North, New Zealand
- 6.1.5 1995: Los Angeles
- 6.1.6 1996: U.K. Nationwide tour
- 6.1.7 2001: Danish tour and Complete Cast Album
- 6.1.8 2002: Stockholm, Sweden
- 6.1.9 2003: Actors Fund of America Benefit Concert, U.S.
- 6.1.10 2007: Multimedia concert, Los Angeles, U.S.
- 6.1.11 2008: Chess in Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, U.K.
- 6.1.12 2010: Budapest, Hungary
- 6.1.13 2010: Arlington, Virginia, U.S
- 6.1.14 2010: U.K. Tour
- 6.1.15 Cast
- 6.1.16 2011: Toronto, Canada
- 6.1.17 2011: Aberystwyth, U.K.
- 6.1.18 2011: Bielefeld, Germany
- 6.1.19 2012: Lincoln Center, New York, U.S.
- 6.1.20 2012: Palmerston North, New Zealand
- 6.1.21 2012: Melbourne, Australia
- 6.1.22 2013: Union Theatre, London, U.K.
- 6.1.23 2013: Los Angeles, California, U.S.
- 6.1 List of miscellaneous productions, concerts, and recordings
- 7 Main characters
- 8 Differences among the major versions
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Lyricist Tim Rice had long wanted to create a musical about the Cold War. During the mid-'70s, he had discussed writing a musical about the Cuban Missile Crisis with his usual collaborator, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, but that idea never came to fruition. In the late '70s, Rice got the idea to tell his Cold War story through the prism of the long-standing U.S.-Soviet chess rivalry; he had earlier been fascinated by the political machinations of the 1972 "Match of the Century" between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. However, when Rice wanted to start working on the new musical in early 1979, Lloyd Webber was already well underway with his own independent musical Cats. (Premiering two seasons later in the West End, Cats became one of the most successful musicals of all time and was also the first one to employ a huge engineering staff to supervise its many technical elements, a paradigm which would be adopted for Chess in numerous capacities during its development.)
Subsequently, American producer Richard Vos suggested to Rice to work with Andersson and Ulvaeus instead, knowing that they were looking to develop and produce projects outside of ABBA. An ardent fan of the group, Rice agreed. He later wrote that he felt no reservations because "there is a sense of theatre in the ABBA style". With Vos also in attendance, Rice met with the two in Stockholm for the first time on 15 December 1981 in order to discuss the concept, and they quickly signed on to the project.
All through 1982 and `83, the three men worked on the music and lyrics. Rice would describe the mood of particular songs he wanted, then Andersson and Ulvaeus would write and record the music and send the tapes to Rice, who would then write lyrics to fit the music, and send the resulting tapes back to Andersson and Ulvaeus and so on.
Some of the songs on the resulting album contained elements of music Andersson and Ulvaeus had previously written for ABBA. For example, the chorus of "I Know Him So Well" was based on the chorus of "I Am An A," a song from their 1977 tour, while the chorus of "Anthem" used the chord structures from the guitar solo from their 1980 ABBA song "Our Last Summer".
Ulvaeus would also provide dummy lyrics to emphasise the rhythmic patterns of the music, and since Rice found a number of these "embarrassingly good" as they were, incorporated a few in the final version. The most well known example is "One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble". One song, which became "Heaven Help My Heart," was recorded with an entire set of lyrics, sung by ABBA's Agnetha Fältskog with the title "Every Good Man", although none of the original lyrics from this song were used.
Partly to raise money in order to produce the show in the West End and partly to see how the material would fare with the public, it was decided to release the music as an album before any stage productions were undertaken, a strategy that had proven successful with Rice's two previous musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita.
Owing in part to the different countries in which the lyricist and composers resided, recording on the album musical of Chess began in Stockholm in early November 1983, with Andersson recording the many layered keyboard parts himself along with other basic work at their usual Polar Studios, and choral and orchestral work then recorded in London by The Ambrosian Singers along with the London Symphony Orchestra. The album was then sound-engineered and mixed back at Polar by longtime ABBA sound engineer Michael B. Tretow.
The double LP, often referred to as a concept album or album musical, was released worldwide in the autumn of 1984. Liner notes included with the album featured a basic synopsis of the story in multiple languages along with song lyrics and numerous photos. The music on the album was described by The New York Times as "a sumptuously recorded... grandiose pastiche that touches half a dozen bases, from Gilbert and Sullivan to late Rodgers and Hammerstein, from Italian opera to trendy synthesizer-based pop, all of it lavishly arranged for the London Symphony Orchestra with splashy electronic embellishments". The album featured Murray Head, Tommy Körberg, Elaine Paige, and noted actor Denis Quilley in the role of Molokov.
A single from the album, "One Night in Bangkok", with verses performed by Murray Head and choruses performed by Anders Glenmark, became a worldwide smash, reaching #3 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The duet "I Know Him So Well" by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson held the #1 spot on the UK singles charts for 4 weeks, winning the Ivor Novello Award in the process as the Best Selling Single ('A' Side). In addition, the tune was later covered not only by Whitney Houston and her mother Cissy as a duet for her sophomore release Whitney, but also by Barbra Streisand, who recorded it originally for The Broadway Album released in 1985. However, the track was deleted from the album due to lack of space and remained unreleased until it was featured on her 1992 album "Highlights from Just for the Record".
On 27 October 1984, a concert version of the album was premiered by the original cast in London's Barbican Centre and then performed in Hamburg, Amsterdam, and Paris with final presentation on 1 November in Berwaldhallen in Stockholm.
In 1985, music videos were filmed for the songs "One Night in Bangkok", "Nobody's Side", "The Arbiter", "I Know Him So Well," and "Pity the Child", featuring the performers from the album and directed by David G Hillier. These were released together in a VHS video entitled Chess Moves.
The original concept album received critical accolades, with Rolling Stone raving that the "dazzling score covers nearly all the pop bases", Kurt Ganzl's Blackwell Guide to the Musical Theatre on Record telling readers about the "thrilling exposition of an exciting piece of modern musical theater occurring before the event" and Time declaring that the "rock symphonic synthesis was ripe with sophistication and hummable tunes".
The album became a Top 10 hit in the UK, West Germany and South Africa, reached #47 on the US Billboard 200, #39 in France, #35 in Australia, and for seven weeks remained at #1 on the Swedish album chart due in no small part to the composers' Swedish heritage. The recording also received several prestigious awards, including the Goldene Europa from Germany, the Edison Award from the Netherlands, and the Rockbjörn from Sweden.
- The American –Murray Head
- The Russian –Tommy Körberg
- Florence –Elaine Paige
- Molokov –Denis Quilley
- The Arbiter –Björn Skifs
- Svetlana –Barbara Dickson
The protagonists, simply called the "American" and the "Russian" for the original album, were sung by Murray Head and Tommy Körberg respectively. The part of Florence, initially the American's second and subsequently the Russian's lover, was sung by Elaine Paige, whilst the part of the Russian's wife Svetlana was sung by Barbara Dickson.
Deluxe edition album
A 2014 release called Chess: The Original Recording Remastered Deluxe Edition, was released in celebration of the 30th anniversary original double album. Released as a double-CD and single DVD, the album features the complete original 1984 concept recording. The remastered and expanded (deluxe) edition includes three previously unreleased bonus tracks as well as a DVD featuring a documentary and five video clips of songs from the album.
Previously unreleased bonus tracks:
- "Press Conference" – The Ambrosian Singers
- "Intro Mountain Duet (Der Kleine Franz)" – London Symphony Orchestra
- "Anthem" – London Symphony Orchestra
- Magasinet Special: Chess 1984 – London Symphony Orchestra, Tommy Körberg, Elaine Paige, Murray Head, Anders Eljas, Denis Quilley, Barbara Dickson, Björn Skifs
Music videos (all of which can be found on Chess Moves):
- "One Night in Bangkok" – Murray Head
- "Nobody's Side" – Elaine Paige
- "The Arbiter" – Björn Skifs
- "I Know Him So Well" – Elaine Paige, Barbara Dickson
- "Pity the Child" – Murray Head
British stage version
History of the original West End production (1986–1989)
Chess premièred in London's West End on 14 May 1986 at the Prince Edward Theatre and closed on 8 April 1989. The original production was originally set to be directed by Michael Bennett; however, after casting the show and commissioning the expansive set and costume designs, he withdrew from the project due to health reasons. Shortly afterward on 2 July 1987 Bennett died from AIDS-related lymphoma at the age of 44.
The show was rescued by director Trevor Nunn, who with considerable technical difficulty eventually shepherded the show on to its scheduled opening. The three principal singers from the concept album, Elaine Paige, Tommy Körberg and Murray Head reprised their roles on stage, however due to prior commitments, Barbara Dickson was unable to appear. Siobhán McCarthy played the part of Svetlana as a result.
According to set designer Robin Wagner, as interviewed for the book Set Design, by author Lynn Pecktal, the original Bennett version was to be a "multimedia" show, with an elaborate tilting floor, banks of television monitors, and other technological touches. Realizing he could never bring Bennett’s vision to fruition, Nunn applied his realistic style to the show instead, although the basics of the mammoth set design were still present in the final production. These included three videowalls, the main of which featured commentary from chess master William Hartston, and appearances from various BBC newsreaders rounding out the package.
The London version expanded the storyline of the concept album, adding considerable new recitative, and attracted several West End stars, such as Anthony Head (Murray Head's brother), Grania Renihan, Ria Jones, David Burt, and Peter Karrie, during its three-year run, and was a massive physical undertaking, with estimated costs up to $12 million.
Eight months later, the nomination and a win came in for the Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Musical, and the show received three 1986 Laurence Olivier Award nominations for Best Musical, Outstanding Performance by an Actor (Tommy Körberg) and Outstanding Performance by an Actress (Elaine Paige) as well. In the categories of Best Musical and Outstanding Performance by an Actor, Chess lost to The Phantom of the Opera, by Rice's former collaborator Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The premiere of the musical provoked an overall mixed to favourable verdict from the critics and, according to Variety, created "one of the bigger West End mob scenes in recent memory". Most of the naysaying notices had comments ranging from "far too long" and "shallow, improbable story masquerading as a serious musical" from The Sunday Times to The Guardian's conclusion that, "A musical is only as good as its book, and here one is confronted by an inchoate mess."
Other newspapers posted rave reviews however. The Daily Telegraph wrote that the show was "gift-wrapped and gorgeous...compels admiration," The Times noted that "it turns out to be a fine piece of work that shows the dinosaur mega-musical evolving into an intelligent form of life" and Today called it "gripping, eye-catching.. nearly a major triumph".
In addition, Michael Ratcliffe wrote in Observer that the "operetta plot which would have delighted a mature Lehar is dramatised in a buoyant, eclectic and stirring theatre-score" and called Körberg "the indisputable star of the show". Sheridan Morley in International Herald Tribune complimented the show's "remarkably coherent dramatic shape" and "staging of considerable intelligence and invention".
The president of the International Chess Federation—The Arbiter—speculates on the origins of the game of chess ("Story of Chess") before announcing the location of the upcoming world chess championship: Merano, Italy. As the townsfolk prepare for the occasion ("Merano"), the current world champion, Freddie Trumper of the United States, arrives with his second and presumed lover: Hungarian-born, English-raised Florence Vassy ("What a Scene! What a Joy!"). Florence derides Freddie for his bad boy attitude and brash behavior ("Commie Newspapers"), which immediately gets out of hand when he assaults a journalist who questions his relationship with Florence ("Press Conference"). Meanwhile, Freddie's Soviet Russian challenger, Anatoly Sergievsky, bickers with his own second, the scheming Molokov ("Anatoly and Molokov"). Afterwards, in private, Anatoly cynically reflects on the selling out of his dreams to get to where he is today ("Where I Want to Be").
The opening ceremony features the American and Soviet delegates each vowing their side will win ("Difficult and Dangerous Times"), The Arbiter insisting on a clean game ("The Arbiter"), and marketers looking to make a profit ("The Merchandisers"). During the increasingly intense match, Freddie suddenly throws the chessboard to the floor and storms out of the arena ("Chess #1"), leaving Florence to negotiate with Anatoly, Molokov, and The Arbiter, eventually promising to retrieve Freddie ("Quartet"). It turns out that Freddie engineered the outburst in the hopes of extracting more money from his sponsor, an American sensationalist media company called Global Television, though Walter—the company's representative in Freddie's delegation—criticizes the stunt as ludicrous. Florence later scolds Freddie, and they fight about the politics of the tournament until he viciously turns the argument toward her missing father, believed captured or killed by Soviet forces during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution ("1956: Budapest is Rising"). She laments the situation alone ("Nobody's Side") before heading off to the Merano Mountain Inn for the reconciliatory meeting she has scheduled between Freddie and Anatoly. Freddie does not immediately turn up, though, leaving Anatoly and Florence awkwardly alone together; however, they eventually embrace as romantic feelings arise before being finally interrupted by Freddie, who was working out new financial terms with Global TV ("Mountain Duet").
The chess tournament proceeds. Distracted by the loss of Florence's love, however, Freddie flounders, leaving himself just one more loss away from losing his title ("Chess #2"). Due to Freddie's atrocious attitude, Florence finally deserts him ("Florence Quits"), whereby Freddie ponders how his unhappy childhood left him the man he is today ("Pity the Child"). He sends The Arbiter a letter of resignation, resulting in Anatoly's becoming the new world champion. Anatoly immediately defects from the Soviet Union and seeks asylum at the British embassy ("Embassy Lament"). Florence, accompanying Anatoly, reflects on their newfound romance ("Heaven Help My Heart"). Meanwhile, Walter tips off the press about this scandal. When the mob of reporters ambush Anatoly and ask why he is deserting his country ("Anatoly and the Press"), he tells them that his land's only borders lie around his heart and, thus, that love is all that matters ("Anthem").
A year later, Anatoly is set to defend his championship in Bangkok, Thailand ("Golden Bangkok"). Freddie is already there, chatting up locals and experiencing the Bangkok nightlife ("One Night in Bangkok"); he is Global TV's official commentator for the tournament. Florence and Anatoly are now openly lovers, and worry about Freddie's sudden reappearance as well as the impending arrival of Anatoly's estranged wife, Svetlana, from Russia ("One More Opponent" / "You and I"), which Anatoly suspects is part of Molokov's plan to shame him into returning to the Soviet Union. Molokov, meanwhile, has trained a new protégé, Leonid Viigand, to challenge, defeat, and humiliate Anatoly ("The Soviet Machine").
Walter, now Freddie's boss, manipulates Freddie into embarrassing Anatoly on live TV during an eventually heated interview between them ("The Interview"). Molokov, who indeed is responsible for Svetlana's presence in Bangkok, blackmails her into urging Anatoly to throw the match. Walter, who has been promised the release of certain captured American agents if he can ruin Anatoly's performance, informs Florence that her father is still alive though imprisoned, and that he too will be released if she can convince Anatoly to lose. Despite Molokov and Walter's efforts, none of their ploys work to get Anatoly to throw the game. As a result, Molokov and Walter team up to get Freddie to personally persuade Anatoly and Florence, knowing that Freddie is vengeful toward Anatoly and interested in winning back the love of Florence; however, Freddie's attempts also fail ("The Deal").
Surprisingly, Svetlana and Florence end up bonding over their respective relationships with Anatoly. Florence ultimately admits that it would be best for Anatoly to return to his children and Svetlana ("I Know Him So Well"). Anatoly, meanwhile, follows an anonymous letter guiding him to Wat Pho, where Freddie appears, having decided to merely facilitate a brilliant match, regardless of his own personal conflicts with Anatoly. Because of this new change in attitude, Freddie informs Anatoly of a significant flaw in Viigand's strategy that will help Anatoly win ("Talking Chess").
In the deciding game of the match, with the score tied at five games all, Svetlana castigates Anatoly for wallowing in the crowd's empty praise and Florence expresses similar annoyance with him for casting aside his ideals; regardless, Anatoly achieves a superb victory against Viigand ("Endgame"). Later, Florence confesses her feelings that he should return to his family in the Soviet Union. The pair reflects on the conclusion of their romance ("You and I: Reprise"). Walter later approaches Florence with the news that Anatoly has defected back to the U.S.S.R., meaning that her father will certainly be released. He startlingly admits, however, that no one actually knows if her father is still alive. Florence breaks down, telling Walter that he is using people's lives for nothing, and she sadly recognizes the truth of Anatoly's earlier sentiment that only love matters ("Anthem: Reprise").
Original West End cast
- Frederick Trumper, The American – Murray Head
- Florence Vassy – Elaine Paige
- Anatoly Sergievsky, The Russian – Tommy Körberg
- Alexander Molokov – John Turner
- Walter de Courcey – Kevin Colson
- The Arbiter – Tom Jobe
- Svetlana Sergievsky – Siobhán McCarthy
- Mayor of Merano – Richard Mitchell
- T.V. Presenter – Peter Karrie
- Civil Servants – Richard Lyndon, Paul Wilson
† The multiple songs listed here are often merged on recordings into a single track.
‡ Song is alternately titled "U.S. vs U.S.S.R."
§ This song actually originated with the American (Broadway) version of the musical, but has since been also included in productions and recordings otherwise adhering to the British version.
American stage version
History of the original Broadway production (1988)
After West End, the creative team decided that the show had to be completely reimagined from the top down, leading to a second major stage version of the musical (intended for American audiences), with considerable differences from the British version in both plot and music. Trevor Nunn brought in playwright Richard Nelson to recreate the musical as a straightforward "book show" for New York's Broadway audiences. 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. As Benny Andersson put it to Variety: "The main difference between London and here is that in London there is only about two or three minutes of spoken dialog. Here, in order to clarify some points, it is almost one-third dialog". The changes necessitated the score to be reordered as well, and comparisons of the Broadway cast recording and the original concept album reveal the dramatic extent of the changes. Robin Wagner completely redesigned the set, which featured a ground-breaking design of mobile towers that shifted continuously throughout the show, in an attempt to give it a sense of cinematic fluidity.
The first preview on 11 April 1988 ran 4 hours with an unexpected 90 minute intermission (the stage crew reportedly had problems with the sets); by opening night on 28 April, it was down to 3 hours 15 minutes. But despite a healthy box-office advance, the Broadway production did not manage to sustain a consistently large audience and closed on 25 June, after 17 previews and 68 regular performances. "And there I was, on closing night, singing and sobbing along," later wrote Time magazine critic Richard Corliss.
Overall, the show (capitalized at $6 million) since its opening, according to Variety, "has been doing moderate business, mainly on the strength of theater party advances," but by mid-June it mostly have been used up. Gerald Schoenfeld, co-producer of the show, elaborated on the reasons for folding the production: "The musical had been playing to about 80 percent capacity, which is considered good, but about 50 percent of the audience have held special, half-priced tickets. If we filled the house at 100 percent at half price, we'd go broke and I haven't seen any surge of tourist business yet this season. The show needs a $350,000 weekly gross to break even, but only a few weeks since its April 28 opening have reached that.... You have to consider what your grosses are going to be in the future" (USA Today, June 21, 1988).
The Broadway production picked up several major award nominations. It got five nods from the Drama Desk Awards: Outstanding Actor in a Musical (David Carroll), Outstanding Actress in a Musical (Judy Kuhn), Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical (Harry Goz), Outstanding Music (Andersson and Ulvaeus) and Outstanding Lighting Design (David Hersey). Carroll and Kuhn also received Tony Award nominations in Leading Actor in a Musical and Leading Actress in a Musical categories. None of the nominations resulted in the win, but Philip Casnoff did receive the 1988 Theatre World Award for Best Debut Performance. Original Broadway Cast recording of the musical was nominated for 1988 Grammy Award in the category Best Musical Cast Show Album (won by the Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods).
Later on, the musical had developed a cult following based primarily on the score as heard on the original concept album (Frank Rich noted in his book Hot Seat that "the score retains its devoted fans"), while Nelson's book became a frequent target of scorn from critics and fans alike[who?], though it still has its supporters[who?]. Many subsequent attempts have been made to fix its perceived problems, but nonetheless, Nelson's book is still used in many American productions, because a contractual stipulation, ostensibly, prevents the London version, which many believe to be the source of the show's popularity and appeal, from being performed within the United States. However, the May–June 2011 production in Charlotte, North Carolina, relied much more heavily on the British version than the American version, and was very similar to the 2010-2011 UK touring version.
In 2001, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle Tim Rice admitted that after the "comparative failure of Chess, his all-time favourite, he became disillusioned with theatre." He commented, "It may sound arrogant, but Chess is as good as anything I've ever done. And maybe it costs too much brainpower for the average person to follow it".
Many critics panned the show, most notably Frank Rich of The New York Times, who wrote that "the evening has the theatrical consistency of quicksand" and described it as "a suite of temper tantrums, [where] the characters ... yell at one another to rock music". Howard Kissel of New York Daily News complained that "the show is shrilly overamplified" and "neither of the love stories is emotionally involving", while Newsweek magazine called the show a "Broadway's monster" and opined that "Chess assaults the audience with a relentless barrage of scenes and numbers that are muscle-bound with self-importance".
A few reviewers, however, praised it highly. William A. Henry III wrote an exceptionally sympathetic review in Time: "Clear narrative drive, Nunn's cinematic staging, three superb leading performances by actors willing to be complex and unlikeable and one of the best rock scores ever produced in the theater. This is an angry, difficult, demanding and rewarding show, one that pushes the boundaries of the form" (Time, May 9, 1988). His sentiments were echoed by William K. Gale in Providence Journal: "A show with a solid, even wonderfully old-fashioned story that still has a bitter-sweet, rough-edged view of the world ... exciting, dynamic theater ... a match of wit and passion."
Richard Christiansen of Chicago Tribune suggested that "Chess falters despite new strategy," yet concluded his review: "Audiences forgive a lot of failings when they find a show that touches them with its music, and Chess, clumsy and overblown as it sometimes is in its three hours-plus running time, gives them that heart". Welton Jones wrote in The San Diego Union-Tribune that Chess "has one of the richest, most exciting scores heard on Broadway in years ... Sadly, the music has been encumbered with an overwritten book and an uninspired staging ... Truly, this is a score to be treasured, held ransom by a questionable book and production".
All critics agreed, though, on the three leading performances by Judy Kuhn, David Carroll and Philip Casnoff. They were showered with praise — "splendid and gallant" (Newsweek), "powerful singers" (The New York Times), "remarkably fine" (New York Post) — especially Kuhn, whose performance Variety called a "show's chief pleasure".
Benny Andersson commented on the negative Broadway reviews: "I really don't know why they don't like it ... I do know that most of the audiences so far stand up and cheer for everyone at the end. They appear to get emotionally involved with the show, and they really like it" (Variety, May 4, 1988).
The play's American incarnation has noticeably different settings, lyrics, song orders, and sometimes whole songs—and a completely different Act 2—from the British version. In particular, in the American Chess the entire show is about one chess match, not two. Act 1 involves the first part of the match, which is held in Bangkok, Thailand, while Act 2 handles the conclusion, and is set in Budapest, Hungary. Also, the incumbent champion is switched in the American version (that is, to Anatoly Sergievsky rather than Freddie Trumper) as is the winner of the Sergievsky-Trumper tournament.
In 1956, a Hungarian revolutionary, Gregor Vassy, calmly explains to his 4-year-old daughter, Florence, the history of chess, before the two are separated in the midst of a violent rebellion in Budapest ("Prologue" / "The Story of Chess").
Decades later at an international chess tournament in Bangkok, Thailand, the wild-tempered American challenger, Freddie Trumper, arrives with his second and presumed lover: a now-adult Florence ("Freddie's Entrance"). At a press meeting, they encounter their opponent: the current world champion—a Soviet Russian named Anatoly Sergievsky, who is escorted by his second, the scheming Molokov ("Press Conference"). Afterwards, in private, Anatoly cynically reflects on how his career as world champion has been characterized by empty fame ("Where I Want to Be"). Meanwhile, Florence complains to Freddie that her intellectual capabilities are under-appreciated ("How Many Women?").
The opening ceremony features merchandise vendors and Walter, Freddie's financial agent, relishing in the tournament's money-making opportunities ("Merchandisers"); the American and Soviet delegates each vowing their side will win ("U.S. vs U.S.S.R."); and the beginning of the tournament’s first round ("Chess"). When Anatoly begins eating yogurt during the match, Freddie accuses him of cheating before storming out of the arena, leaving Florence to negotiate with the tournament's Arbiter, Molokov, and Anatoly, eventually promising to retrieve Freddie ("Quartet"). Florence later scolds Freddie, and they fight about the tournament’s politics until he viciously turns the argument toward her missing father ("You Want to Lose Your Only Friend?"); alone, Florence begins to realize her need to abandon Freddie ("Someone Else's Story").
Supposed to head off to the Bangkok Hilton Hotel for the reconciliatory meeting Florence has scheduled between Freddie and Anatoly, Freddie is sidetracked by the nightlife ("One Night in Bangkok"), leaving Anatoly and Florence awkwardly alone together; however, they eventually embrace as romantic feelings arise before being finally interrupted by Freddie ("Terrace Duet"). When Freddie accuses Florence of conspiring against him, she finally leaves him ("Florence Quits" and "Nobody's Side"). Anatoly apologizes for the yogurt incident and Freddie returns to the match, but only after a hefty bribe. Distracted by the loss of Florence's love, however, Freddie flounders, finishing the most recent round with one win and five losses; one more loss will cost him the match. Meanwhile, Walter secretly arranges for Anatoly to defect from the Soviet Union to the United States, but when a mob of reporters ambush Anatoly and ask why he is deserting his country ("Anatoly and the Press"), he tells them that his land's only borders lie around his heart and, thus, that love is all that matters ("Anthem").
Eight weeks later, everyone is in Budapest to witness the conclusion of the match between Anatoly and Freddie ("The Arbiter" and "Hungarian Folk Song"). Florence and Anatoly are now openly lovers, and Florence is elated to be back in her hometown, but dismayed that she remembers none of it ("Heaven Help My Heart"). Molokov offers to help her find her missing father and starts "investigating." Freddie, who has begun to feel liberated from Florence, is confident that he will win ("No Contest"). Now Anatoly has become the emotionally burdened one, with Molokov plotting to force him to return to the Soviet Union by threatening his brother’s family. Even Svetlana, Anatoly's estranged wife, has been flown into Budapest to pressure him into going back, which of course also strains Anatoly's relationship with Florence ("You and I"). Molokov and Walter, both revealing themselves as secret agents interested in exchanging key individuals, collaborate to achieve their separate goals ("Let's Work Together"), and Molokov reveals that Florence's father is alive in Budapest. Florence, meanwhile, confronts Svetlana but, surprisingly, they end up bonding over their respective relationships with Anatoly ("I Know Him So Well"). Anatoly is beginning to break down from Molokov and Walter’s manipulations, leaving the score tied at five games all, and so Florence begs Freddie to postpone the final round. Freddie refuses and privately contemplates how his unhappy childhood left him the man he is today ("Pity the Child"). In the meantime, Molokov brings Florence to see a man claiming to be her father and the two joyously reconnect ("Lullaby"), but Molokov implies that harm will come to the man if Florence remains with Anatoly.
In the deciding game of the match, Anatoly resolves to ensure that Florence is reunited with her father. He thus chooses to recant his defection and makes a tactical error during the game. Freddie immediately takes advantage of the blunder and proceeds to win the tournament, becoming the new world champion ("Endgame"). Florence and Anatoly reflect on the conclusion of their romance ("You and I: Reprise"). Florence is left alone to wait for her father when she is approached by Walter, who confesses that the old man is not her father and her father is most likely dead. It seems that Molokov struck a deal with Walter that if the Russians managed to get Anatoly back, they would release a captured American spy; using Florence, they succeeded. Florence has now left Freddie, been abandoned by Anatoly, and lost the father she never had, and she sadly recognizes the truth of Anatoly's earlier sentiment that only love matters ("Anthem: Reprise").
Original Broadway cast
- Frederick Trumper, The American – Philip Casnoff
- Florence Vassy – Judy Kuhn
- Anatoly Sergievsky, The Russian – David Carroll
- Ivan Molokov – Harry Goz
- Walter Anderson – Dennis Parlato
- Arbiter – Paul Harman
- Svetlana Sergievsky – Marcia Mitzman
- Gregor Vassy – Neal Ben-Ari
- Young Florence – Gina Gallagher
- Nikolai – Kurt Jones
- Joe and Harold (embassy officials) – Richard Muenz and Eric Johnson
- Ben – Kip Niven
† This song appears on the Broadway cast album, but was deleted from production and is not found in the script licensed for production.
‡ This song features in productions, but was unrecorded for the Broadway album.
§ Several songs in the American version are sometimes identified by alternative titles. "Freddie's Entrance" is also called "What a Scene! What a Joy!"; "U.S. vs. U.S.S.R." called "Diplomats"; "Florence Quits" called "So You Got What You Want"; "Anatoly and the Press" called "Reporters"; "No Contest" called "Winning"; and "A Whole New Board Game" called "Freddie Goes Metal."
Miscellaneous productions, concerts, and recordings (1989–present)
List of miscellaneous productions, concerts, and recordings
|Frederick "Freddie" Trumper||Tenor||"The American": The champion from the United States—a self-absorbed, fame-and-fortune-seeking, short-tempered, Russophobic bad boy, who either matures and aids Anatoly a year after his own defeat (in the British and Australian versions), or remains selfish and wins the tournament (in the American version).|
|Anatoly Sergievsky||Baritone/Tenor||"The Russian": The champion from Soviet Russia—a troubled husband (and father, in the British and Australian versions) who despises the propaganda and politics of the tournament, eventually deciding to defect from his homeland, even at the cost of deserting his family.|
|Florence Vassy||Mezzo-Soprano or Belter||Freddie's strong-willed second and possible paramour, who (raised in England, according to the British version, or in the United States, according to the American version) was born in Budapest (or Prague, according to the Australian version) and separated from her presumably captured or killed father during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956; Florence feels strained by Freddie's brashness and falls in love with Anatoly, eventually becoming his mistress.|
|The Arbiter||Baritone/Tenor||The coldly objective, no-nonsense referee of the championship tournament and also the president of the International Chess Federation.|
|Molokov||Bass or Bass-Baritone||Anatoly's conniving second who is apparently also a manipulative KGB agent; his first name is mentioned as "Alexander" in the British version, but it is "Ivan" in the American and Australian versions.|
|Walter||Bass-Baritone (in the British version); Tenor (in the American version)||A financial administrator in Freddie's delegation and seemingly a secret CIA agent; his surname is given as "de Courcey" (or sometimes "de Courcy") in the British version, but "Anderson" in the American version.|
|Svetlana Sergievskaya||Mezzo-Soprano or Belter||Anatoly's estranged wife who, under Molokov's machinations, tries to persuade Anatoly to return to his homeland and family; although upset at Anatoly's betrayal, she also understands that Florence has given Anatoly something she cannot herself.|
Differences among the major versions
|Version:||Notable plot differences:||Notable song differences:||Commercial recordings:||Only this version includes:||Miscellaneous notes:|
(released in 1984)
|British stage version
(premièred in the West End: 1986–1989)
|American stage version
(premièred on Broadway: 1988)
|Australian stage version
(premièred in Sydney: 1990–1991)
- Harold C. Schonberg (1998-05-08). "Does Anyone Make a Bad Move In 'Chess'?". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-27. "Bernie Jacobs, the grand Rhadamanthus of the Shubert Organization, one of the presenters of the musical, says that Bobby originally was the model for the American player but that in the course of events his image got a little diluted."
- Ray Keene. "Keene on Chess: Viktor Korchnoi". Chessville. Archived from the original on 12 October 2012.
- "BBC - Radio 2 - Elaine Paige".
- CHESS seeks to shed its checkered past, Stephen Holden, The New York Times, 24 April 1988
- How to spend £4 million in one night, Tim Rice, The Sunday Times, 11 May 1986
- "Bright Lights Dark Shadows: The Real Story of ABBA", Carl Magnus Palm, p. 471
- William Roland Hartston; Tim Rice; Benny Andersson (1986). Chess: the making of a musical. Pavilion. ISBN 978-1-85145-006-0.
- Gans, Andrew. "Deluxe Edition of Original Chess Recording Will Feature Two CDs and DVD; Track Listing Announced" Playbill.com, November 12, 2014
- "Chess". Samuel French. 2013-04-22. Retrieved 2013-10-21.
- "Albemarle - Awards". Albemarle-london.com. Retrieved 2013-10-21.
- "Previous Winners: Olivier Winners 1986". Olivier Awards. Retrieved 2013-10-21.
- "Auditions for CHESS at Queen City Theatre Company". North Carolina Theatre Conference. Retrieved 2011-09-19.
- The full story is in the San Francisco Chronicle, July 22, 2001 edition.
- "CHESS The Musical Collection - London, Broadway, In Concert, Pa (download torrent) - TPB". Thepiratebay.se. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
- Gans, Andrew."Heaven Help Her Heart: Julia Murney Heads Cast of All-Star Chess Concert Sept. 22" playbill.com, September 22, 2003
- Gans, Andrew."One Night in Hollywood: Chess Benefit Presented Sept. 17" playbill.com, September 17, 2007
- Royal Albert Hall — Chess in Concert from the Chess in Concert official website. Retrieved 2008-12-29.
- "Production of Chess". Theatricalia. 2008-05-13. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
- "Sakk, Chess" (in Hungarian). PS Produkció. Retrieved 2010-08-11.
- "Signature Theatre". Sig-online.org. Retrieved 2012-02-09.
- "2010-2011 Season".
- Theater Bielefeld: Chess - Das Musical
- Chess in Concert 2012
- "Abbey Musical Theatre : Homepage". Abbeymusicaltheatre.co.nz. Retrieved 2013-10-21.
- Michelle Pountney (13 August 2012). "Players back in the game". Herald Sun. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
- Erin James (30 July 2012). "Chess rehearsals begin, Melbourne". Aussie Theatre. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
- Tim Carney August 24, 2012
- AussieTheatre.com.au. "Chess Rooked!". Aussietheatre.com.au. Retrieved 2013-01-12.
- Erin James (18 August 2012). "Chess opens in Melbourne". Aussie Theatre. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
- "2012 Green Room Awards Recipients". Australian Stage Online. 6 May 2013. Retrieved 6 May 2013.
- "2012 Green Room Awards Nominations". Stage Whispers. 18 February 2013. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- "2013 Helpmann Award Nominations". Stage Whispers. 24 June 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
- "2013 Helpmann Award Winners". Stage Whispers. 29 July 2013. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
- "The "definitive" version of CHESS to premiere at London’s Union Theatre | icethesite - Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus news site". icethesite. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
- Nichols, David C. (2013-05-17). "Review: 'Chess' revival takes an inventive spin at East West Players". latimes.com. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
- Chess at the Internet Broadway Database
- icethesite — Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus news site, including West End and Broadway reviews of Chess
- Plot summary & casting breakdown
- Chess the Musical 2010
- Chess musical