Theater review: Chess the Musical
Take music created by Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, pair it with a hit of Australian pop royalty and a dash of amazing opera vocals, and you’ve got Chess the musical.
The superb score is backed by lyrics and a book by Tim Rice and features a cast with big names including Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Paulini and Rob Mills.
This semi-staged version of the musical sees the opponents of chess clash, while a storyline of political intrigue and a love triangle simmer in the background.
Within limits, set designer and costume designer Dann Barber beautifully crafted the aesthetic – the entire show takes place on a giant chessboard in the middle of the stage, surrounded by the 25-member orchestra and choir. It gets a little busy at times with so many bodies on stage that the notoriously complex plot unfolds.
The costumes give a little nod to the ’80s – the time the original musical was created – without venturing too far into epaulettes and high-shine polyester territory.
An elegant color scheme of black and white is punctuated only with touches of tasteful red.
Despite all the big names in pop on stage, it’s Alexander Lewis as Russian chess player Anatoly who steals the stages. The tenor’s lyrical background shines through and his strong voice remains constant throughout the night.
Lewis’s onstage wife Paulini brings the highs with every note, oozing with heartache from her character Svetlana, after her husband left her for the Florence of Bassingthwaighte.
The diverse score covers everything from the most eye-catching One night in Bangkok to open the second act, in the heart of Paulini and Bassingthwaighte I know him so well – a song recognized in the Guinness Book of Records as the best-selling single in the UK by a female duo (Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson).
The duo stand out from their titles of queen of pop to demonstrate their belonging to the musical theater scene. Bassingthwaighte’s Nobody is on the side is another highlight, which elicits enthusiastic applause.
There is a lot accent in the performance and it tends to be distracting, with some going in and out during the show.
The strength of the score must be very important Chess – the convoluted plot, the sometimes chaotic staging and some uneven performances – but music lovers, and the work of Benny and Björn in general, will have fun.
Chess the Musical is at Her Majesty’s Theater until May 29.
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