Lyrics: Tim Rice
Music: Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus
Director and Choreographer: Louise Denison
Musical Director: Jim Lunt
Reviewer: Maggie Poppa
The Public Reviews Rating:
Chess could be described as a ‘Marmite Musical’ – you will probably either love it or hate it. But what is quite evident is that whether or not this is your favourite musical, Leeds Amateur Operatic Society has another successful production on their hands.
Thirty years ago Tim Rice discussed his idea to write a musical with the background of the Cold War with his partner of previous musical hits, Andrew Lloyd Webber. However their partnership was beginning to hit the rocks and so Rice carried the idea to Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus and an agreement to work together on the project was muted. Chess was originally released as a two record LP set, and the album was a Top 10 hit in the USA eighteen months before the stage production finally opened in 1986. Because of the eventual collaboration with these particular musicians from time to time the music has Abba-ish overtones but it is more operatic than many musicals and it’s this that makes it so successful.
This LAOS production is staged with a monochrome minimalist set comprising a chess board plus metal stairs and bridge, but the design works well and scenes revolve with the addition of sparse aluminium seating and sofas. Back projection successfully keeps the story rolling along and points the audience to understand where the action takes place.
Act One begins with the World Chess Championship taking place in Merano, Italy. We are introduced to the contenders – American Freddy Trumper (Alex Hogg) and Russian Anatoly Sergievsky (Fraser Wilkinson). Trumper’s second (and lover) is Florence Vassy (Gemma Durkin) and for the Soviet team her counterpart is Alexander Molokov (Terry Ford). Politics and chess compete for centre stage and towards the end the audience understandably could find it hard to keep up with the plot.
All of the starring roles are well handled but the audience is given a real treat at the end of Act One as Fraser Wilkinson sings The Anthem, and perhaps this is the song of the night even though in Act Two there is a well delivered version of I Know Him So Well. Of particular note is the perfect diction of Jacqueline Bell who plays Svetlana Sergievskaya, the Russian chess champion’s wife. However also worthy of praise is the LAOS chorus who perform with very tight harmonies, are well disciplined and are effectively choreographed throughout.
Runs until Saturday 17th March
Chess – Grand Theatre, Leeds ,