In 2018, Chess The Musical returns to the West End Stage after a 30 year hiatus. It’s an epic score – big enough to rival Phantom and Les Miserables and demands big voices. The production features English National Opera’s award-winning Orchestra and Chorus – with lead roles to be announced soon. It’s written by the boys from ABBA and Sir Tim Rice but there’s so much more you might not know!
What’s it about?
Cold War, East vs West. In today’s era of Russia’s cyber-threat to Western Democracies, that seems more relevant than ever. Chess takes the rivalry, subterfuge and political plotting of two global super-powers and transfers the action to the World Chess championships, where defection, gamesmanship and espionage are as rife as in the corridors of power. It’s a love story between characters whose lives are torn apart by powers they cannot control. Chess is probably best summed up as “The Thinking-Person’s Musical.”
Who are the main characters?
Freddie Trumper (The American). A gifted Chess prodigy, Trumper is probably the most talented player in the game, but an explosive temper and deep insecurities leave him vulnerable as both a player and a human being.
Florence Vassy (His Second). A Budapest-born immigrant. She is as close to Freddie as anyone can be, but despite her support, he treats her terribly and pushes her right into the arms of his Russian rival, Anatoly.
Anatoly Sergievsky (The Russian). Anatoly’s heart lies in his homeland, but his first passion is the game he loves – Chess…that is until he falls deeply in love with Florence. Despite his suspicion of Florence’s motives, Anatoly is torn between love and duty and leaving everything behind for the woman he loves.
Svetlana Sergievsky. Anatoly’s Russian wife, and puppet of the Russian Establishment. She loves her husband but with their marriage growing as cold as a Siberian winter, she will use whatever means possible – including the power of the Russian state – to win her husband back.
Alexander Molokov – The Russian’s Second. From his position of power in the political establishment, he tries to control every aspect of Anatoly’s game – and life.
The Arbiter – The game’s referee, ensuring that the rules of Chess are upheld whatever is going on outside of the game.
Here are 20 awesome facts & Chess trivia you might not know!
- To date, Chess remains the world’s most successful ever musical based on a board game (although Monopoly The Musical is still in the pipeline!)
- According to The Guinness Book of Records, the single “I Know Him So Well” remains the most successful ever by a female duo, retaining the No.1 spot in the UK Singles Charts for 4 weeks.
- Chess premiered in London on 14 May 1986, but the London Version nearly didn’t happen when the original director, Michael Bennett, fell ill. Then, Tommy Körberg (Anatoly) was hospitalized almost missing the show’s opening night.
- It’s a popular misconception that Barbara Dixon played Svetlana in the Original West End Cast: In fact, it was Siobhán McCarthy – although Dixon did appear on the Original Concept Album.
- After several revisions, Chess opened on Broadway in 1988 but lasted just two months. Fortunately a bootleg version of the Original Broadway Chess survives on youtube.
- In 1987, Whitney Houston & her mother, Cissy Houston recorded a studio version of I Know Him So Well for Whitney’s second album, Whitney.
- Susan Boyle captivated the hearts of the nation with her performance of I Know Him So Well in an ITV Special. I Dreamed A Dream: The Susan Boyle Story, dueting with a terrified-looking Elaine Paige.
- Susan Boyle also teamed up with by Peter Kay’s alter-ego Geraldine McQueen in a never-to-be-forgotten version for Comic Relief.
- …but even that’s not the only version of I Know Him So Well performed in drag!
- Uber-fans can watch the whole of the Chess in Swedish on Youtube. At 1h38m50s, it includes one of the most hypnotic trapeze duets ever seen in a stage musical.
- There are so many beautiful songs in Chess. Probably the second most famous is Anthem, performed here in the 2008 Albert Hall version by Josh Groban
- Anthem cropped up again in 2011 when Jai McDowell wowed the judges on Britain’s Got Talent with his version of one of Chess’s most moving songs.
- Let’s not forget another 80s iconic hit, which also comes from Chess, One Night In Bangkok, performed here by one of the original London cast-members, Murray Head
- …it was also covered by Elaine Paige in a version that the choreographer would probably rather forget!
- Over seven-hundred cans of hairspray were used on the video of I Know Him So Well, single-handedly creating the hole in the ozone layer which appeared directly over Elaine Paige and Barbara Dixon.
- Chess has been reworked and rewritten numerous times since the 1980s, including a version entirely in Swedish (2002). In 2018, two different versions will play on opposite sides of the Atlantic in New York and London.
- Benny and Bjorn also wrote Mamma Mia – but you might not know that they also penned a rather beautiful musical called Kristina Från Duvemåla, which is available in a concert version. The title role is played by Helen Sjöholm, who also plays Florence Vassy in the 2002 Swedish version of Chess and who gets to sing the Swedish version of Someone Else’s Story, originally featured in the Broadway version.
- The game of chess originated in Persia – a fact you’ll get to know if you listen carefully when you see the show!
- A concert version of Chess at the Royal Albert Hall featured both Idina Menzel and Kerry Ellis – who have both starred as Elphaba on both Broadway and the West End stage.
- A version of Chess at the Kennedy Centre, NYC, runs in February 2018 and features a revised book by Danny Strong, who played Jonathan Levinson in Buffy The Vampire Slayer!
Chess runs from 26 April to 2 June 2018. Direction by Laurence Connor (School of Rock and Miss Saigon on Broadway and in the West End, Les Misérables on Broadway, and the international Jesus Christ Superstar arena tour). Choreography by West End legend Stephen Mear.
Love Musical Theatre trivia? Check out our other posts, including 10 things you didn’t know about Andrew Lloyd Webber