Written by Tim Rice and ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, Chess: the Musical is about a battle between two great chess minds at the world championships. Beyond that is a love triangle that develops between the American and Russian sides that are reflective of the Cold War.
I originally saw this musical years ago when our community theatre had put it on and I absolutely fell in love with the story and the music. How exciting to see Mirvish bring it to the Princess of Wales theatre for 5 weeks! To be honest, it’s hard to explain the story of the show to my friends who had asked. “It’s a musical about CHESS?” was often the reaction, and yes, it is – but it’s so much more than that. Probably one of the most famous songs from this musical is One Night in Bangkok, which many of you may have heard before.
The 4 leads are incredibly talented, but what really impressed me was the ensemble/orchestra! Not only were they in full costume as chess pieces that interacted within the scenes, they were all also singing, dancing and playing instruments the entire show! That’s a lot of memorization to do there!
I had purchased the Chess: in Concert DVD previously when I saw that it was Adam Pascal (Roger from Rent), Idina Menzel (Elphaba from Wicked, and also on Glee) and Josh Groban performing on the DVD. I found the casting of the male leads in this production to be quite similar to those on the DVD. James Fox as Freddie, the American, sounds almost identical to Adam Pascal (at one point, my friend and I felt like we could almost hear One Song Glory about to be played when he picked up the guitar, they were that similar). Tam Mutu as Anatoly, the Russian, has such a powerful operatic voice that is reminiscent of Josh Groban’s vocals.
The only thing that slightly bugged me was some of the staging. I found that the sightlines for those sitting on the sides were not ideal. The stage was geared towards a front-facing audience. We were sitting in the orchestra level, just off to the side and many times couldn’t see what was going on. Particularly during the chess matches, the players & board were seated quite far back, with the ensemble of chess pieces in a straight line down to the front of the stage. So, unless you’re sitting dead-centre, you had no idea what was going on.
Honestly though, the show is fantastic. Great music, amazing talent and fantastic costumes (keep your eye out for the key chess pieces like the kings, queens & knights) Grab your tickets before the show’s gone at the end of October!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ (4/5 stars)