Chess The Musical: What’s It About? 20 Most Awesome Fan Facts

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!

  1. 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!)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. In 1987, Whitney Houston & her mother, Cissy Houston recorded a studio version of I Know Him So Well for Whitney’s second album, Whitney.
  7. 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.
  8. Susan Boyle also teamed up with by Peter Kay’s alter-ego Geraldine McQueen in a never-to-be-forgotten version for Comic Relief.
  9. …but even that’s not the only version of I Know Him So Well performed in drag!
  10. 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.
  11. 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
  12. 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.
  13. 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
  14. …it was also covered by Elaine Paige in a version that the choreographer would probably rather forget!
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. The game of chess originated in Persia – a fact you’ll get to know if you listen carefully when you see the show!
  19. 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.
  20. 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!

You can buy tickets for Chess The Musical which are on sale now. Not sure where to sit? Check out our seat reviews for the London Coliseum.

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.

Further reading:

CHESS – theatre Wiki Fan Page
A Guide To Musical Theatre – Chess

Love Musical Theatre trivia? Check out our other posts, including 10 things you didn’t know about Andrew Lloyd Webber


Seven things you never knew about Mamma Mia!

We’ve all been there: You have 3 one night stands in a row, fall pregnant and then 20 years later your daughter tracks all three possible fathers down on her wedding day using only the songs of ABBA. Sound familiar?

That’s the basic premise of Mamma Mia!, the hit musical featuring the songs of Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. The show has now been running in London’s West End for an incredible 18 years and since then, national tours and productions have sprung up around the world. So what is it that makes the show such an enduring hit? And who are the characters? Let’s take a tour through the Greek Islands to the fabulous world of Mamma Mia:

Here we have our Seven Things you never knew about Mamma Mia!, followed by pretty much everything there is to know about the show

  1. During early London previews, audiences laughed so hard at the actors’ serious delivery of dialogue like “Chiquitita, tell me…what’s wrong?” that scenes had to be hastily redirected with tongues firmly in cheeks – it worked and the show became a monster hit.
  2. Producer Judy Craymer met Benny & Björn while they were in London promoting their first musical, Chess. She loved the theatricality of The Winner Takes It All and suggested a musical using ABBA’s back catalogue. At first the boys were less than enthusiastic but thankfully Judy changed their minds!
  3. Mamma Mia! has strong female leads – and the team behind the show was also comprised of three amazing women: Producer Judy Craymer, writer Catherine Johnson and director Phyllida Lloyd.
  4. The cast gets through 121 bras per show – That’s a lot of underwire!
  5. And is the 8th longest running show in West End history. It first opened in the West End in 1999 at the Prince Edward Theatre, transferred to the Prince of Wales in 2004 and in September 2012 it transferred to the Novello Theatre.
  6. 33,000 Rhinestones have to be individually sewn on to the costumes used in Super Trouper. If just one rhinestone were to come loose, it’s believed the whole Swedish economy could collapse.
  7. Mamma Mia! is the shows with the most number of people per booking – more than The Lion King – with an astonishing average of 3.5 tickets per single booking. Groups of women, maybe? We don’t know, but it could be as there is plenty of male flesh on show in the show…

Meet the characters (in order of appearance):

MAMMA MIA! London 2016 - 2017 cast. Photos by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
MAMMA MIA! London 2016 – 2017 cast. Photos by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

Sophie Sheridan
Sophie managed to grow up in Greece without a trace of a Greek accent. She is getting married to Sky. Her mother, Donna, has a terrible habit of leaving her diary lying around. Sophie’s main hobbies are reading other people’s diaries and singing Abba songs.

Lisa & Ali
Lisa & Ali are Sophie’s best friends. They perform important Musical Theatre duties such as singing, acting and explaining elements of plot which cannot otherwise be explained through Swedish Pop Music.

Best friend of Donna, Tania has developed a deliciously cynical view of the world. Once a member of “Donna and the Dynamos” she has since made a living by divorcing as many times as possible.

An unmarried British author and other best friend to Donna. Rosie also sang with “Donna and the Dynamos”. Now dumpy frumpy and middle aged but still a up for a laugh, she remains quite a man-eater if left unwatched.

Donna Sheridan
Mamma Mia is set on a Greek Island, so book writer Catherine Johnson decided to name the lead character after a kebab. To complete the cliché, Donna owns a taverna and wears dungarees – presumably to cover the chilli sauce stains.

MAMMA MIA! London 2016 - 2017 cast. Photos by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
MAMMA MIA! London 2016 – 2017 cast. Photos by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

Sky is the boyfriend of Sophie and soon-to-be-son-in-law of Donna. He set off around the world in search of himself, but only made it as far as the West End. He now earns a living designing Greek versions of Tripadvisor and taking his top off.

The slightly crazy sidekick/best man to Sky, Pepper (not to be confused with the cartoon pig) tends bar for Donna and is quite the smitten kitten when he bumps into her best friend and Musical Theatre cougar, Tania.

One of Sophie’s three possible fathers. A writer and adventurer, Bill falls in love with Rosie. Bill is only Swedish in the film – presumably to keep Scandinavian cinema-goers, the chef in the muppets and the rest of ABBA happy?

An architect and the second of Sophie’s three possible fathers. Sam broke Donna’s heart 20 years before when he returned to his wife-to-be. But Sam soon realised he loved Donna and returned to win her back, only to find she had found a new way to keep her kebabs warm.

The third of Sophie’s three possible fathers, Harry confesses that Donna was the first – and last – woman that he loved. He then realised why – and ended up with two dogs and a husband.

MAMMA MIA! London 2016 - 2017 cast. Photos by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
MAMMA MIA! London 2016 – 2017 cast. Photos by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

The Creative Team

The Writer
Catherine Johnson wrote the book for both the Stage and Screen versions of Mamma Mia, spurred on by earlier successes including writing many of the best lines in series 9 of Byker Grove.

The Producer
Judy Craymer reportedly made £90m from the success of Mamma Mia. She later turned her back on success by developing Viva Forever, a musical featuring the songs of the Spice Girls. Sadly it turned out to be Viva Not Forever and the show quickly waved Goodbye.

The Director
Now a CBE, Phyllida Lloyd directed Mamma Mia on both stage and screen. She loved Meryl Streep so much that she stalked her until she finally gave in and agreed to play Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.

Mamma Mia: The Movie
Following the incredible success of Mamma Mia on stage, in 2008 the decision was taken to make as much money as possible by releasing a movie version. This also gave several screen hunks, including Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth, the chance to demonstrate why singing is sometimes best left to the professionals. Despite some bum notes, the film became the highest grossing British movie of all time.

MAMMA MIA! London 2016 - 2017 cast. Photos by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
MAMMA MIA! London 2016 – 2017 cast. Photos by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

Top Five reasons people love Mamma Mia on Stage:

  1. It reminds them of being on holiday
  2. The show is packed full of great Abba songs and Pierce Brosnan doesn’t sing any of them
  3. The cast is full of young pretty people dancing and singing
  4. You always leave the theatre on cloud nine
  5. The French and Saunders spoof of Mamma Mia for Comic Relief

Mamma Mia also has its own YouTube channel, where you can find a series of behind-the-scenes videos, see them all here:

Abba Songs featured in Mamma Mia (in order)

Act I
Honey Honey (Sophie)
Money, Money, Money (Donna, Tanya, Rosie, Pepper & Ensemble)
Thank You for the Music (Sophie, Sam, Harry & Bill)
Mamma Mia (Donna & Ensemble)
Chiquitita (Donna, Tanya & Rosie)
Dancing Queen (Donna, Tanya & Rosie)
Lay All Your Love on Me (Sky, Sophie, Male Ensemble)
Super Trouper (Donna, Tanya, Rosie, Female Ensemble)
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) (Male ensemble)
The Name of the Game (Sophie and Bill)
Voulez Vous (Ensemble)

Act II
Under Attack (Sophie and Ensemble)
One of Us (Donna)
SOS (Donna & Sam)
Does Your Mother Know (Tanya, Pepper & Ensemble)
Knowing Me, Knowing You (Sam)
Our Last Summer (Harry & Donna)
Slipping Through My Fingers (Donna & Sophie)
The Winner Takes It All (Donna)
Take a Chance on Me (Rosie & Bill)
I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do (Sam, Donna and Company)
I have a Dream (Sophie)


Mamma Mia (Company)
Dancing Queen (Donna, Tanya, Rosie & Company)
Waterloo (Company)

MAMMA MIA! London 2016 - 2017 cast. Photos by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
MAMMA MIA! London 2016 – 2017 cast. Photos by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

So, what are you waiting for? Unleash your inner Dancing Queen and book tickets for Mamma Mia today – it’s about the most fun you can have in a theatre!

Mamma Mia is now showing at London’s Novello Theatre.
Running Time (including interval): 2h 45m

Could you see Mamma Mia again and again and again? Check out our feature on Musical Theatre Superfans!

MAMMA MIA! London 2016 - 2017 cast. Photos by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
MAMMA MIA! London 2016 – 2017 cast. Photos by Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

Douze Points: A West End Eurovision Love Affair

This weekend sees the 60th anniversary of the camp-fest that is the Eurovision Song Contest.

Laughter and Lycra....nothing beats the drama of a Eurovision final
Laughter and Lycra….nothing beats the drama of a Eurovision final

Vienna has re-phased its traffic lights in anticipation for a competition which started way back in 1956 when Europe was just a group of countries making cheese and squabbling over Poland. Since then, Europe has opened it’s arms to allow countries like Azerbaijan, Israel and anyone else with enough money to take part. This year, it’s Australia.

Austria's Eurovision crossings are anything but pedestrian...
Austria’s Eurovision crossings are anything but pedestrian…

Eurovision is unashamedly camp: Last year’s winner was Austria’s Conchita Wurst – part drag queen part bearded sausage. Before that we had Jedward singing about lipstick and Russia’s dancing grandmothers creating a decoy while the rest of the family invaded Ukraine. The West End has a long standing love affair with all this nonsenseso just how many West End performers have stepped up to “take one for their country”? Read more