CHESS – The Musical
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6_wLhUaJWw – a wee taster
Looking back at all my reviews of the past year, I am beginning to think I have no discernment whatsoever, as I have enjoyed everything I have seen. I would have had a field day writing about the fabulous ” Billy Elliot – the Musical” but didn’t feel I could do it justice as being a teenager in the UK at this time I was directly affected by the fall-out of this period in UK “Union” history. This show however, was so memorable that I had to “Inote” my immediate impressions during the journey home
The difference between this and all the other (for the most part) superb shows I have seen over the last few years, was the skilled manipulation of the musical themes as the main plot development tool. The stories, themes and plot were interwoven into the music. The score was multi-functional fitting the needs of the different characters as the plot unfolded. Certain elements of theme tunes would be re-emerge periodically throughout the show, as a different arrangement and tossed around between the leads and ensemble. The same words sung by different characters depending upon their evolved situation in the plot. The three leads frequently sang contrapuntal arrangements together and fortunately they all were miked up so you could pick out each voice in the resulting gorgeousness of their collaboration.
The musical score of Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson (Abba for those born after 1984); injected a breath of fresh air into “Chess” and differentiated it from he family of long running musicals/shows still doing the rounds, many of whom follow the same traditional agenda of the Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborations (with or without Tim Rice).
This was a brilliant and complicated concept for a musical and amazingly “now” despite being penned over 25 years ago and relating to the “cold war” era now largely irrelevant except as a reminder(or a history lesson depending upon your age).
Slumped in my seat, having a rough idea of the premise, but no idea of how it was going to play out as a musical, I was jarred into an upright position by the opening chords of the first act; Discordant and strident and accompanying a coterie of ensemble cast dressed in bondage gear representing – at the stretch of imagination – various chess pieces. The costumes were risqué and surprising (penchant for semi clad muscled men throughout (not complaining). Most of the ensemble and the “leads” were carrying/playing a music Yes, we are talking an all-singing; all-dancing’ all-playing cast.
The set design was inspired and simple composing of static back scenery used alternately as the medium for the display of grainy black and white stills of various chess champions since 1854; and as the backdrop to reinforce/televise actual moments on stage, i.e. grainy black and white live footage of actual members of the ensemble on stage and showing a televised view of the on-stage broadcasting pieces that formed part of the story.
The show brochure came with a four page explanation of the plot which was helpful as with the exception of the narration of a character called “The Arbiter” (a stunning and dramatic looking individual), much of the show’s story-line unfolded through song rather than the spoken-word. It doesn’t matter how superb the diction of the performers, when you have a huge cast singing en-mass, some of the diction is lost, so it was important to maintain the bolt upright position throughout to focus on what was being sung.
The leads were superb, – if you couldn’t catch all the meaning in the songs, the body language provided all the visual clues necessary. The cast was mostly British; the lead woman Shona White stole the show in my opinion with a number of well-known (In the UK) male leads bringing up the rear.
Best fun was Scene 10 – when one of the main proponents has gone to the British Honorary Consul to seek asylum. Very reminiscent of a 50’s show the “Embassy Lament” and choreography was a tension easer, despite the subject matter.
The show is currently moving on from Toronto but my guess it will be back some day.
In the meantime some light hearted parodying links below to keep you amused
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAUsHqgroO4&feature=related – spoof for Comic Relief of I know Him So well – Susan Boyle and Peter Kay
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bA3ViarcRIw&feature=related – French and saunders DO “Chess”
Over and Out