Blog: Chess- The Musical

The PTC`s production of the world famous Chess-The Musical is now finished, and what a show it was!

A big thank you to all those involved in the production, it really was a great success and certainly caused a buzz amongst the Nottingham theatre community..

Here is a selection of some of the excellent reviews the production received:-

Kev Castle

“What could possibly be interesting about a musical about politics and the game of chess? Well this is a musical which is based around a chess board and may be politically motivated, but this is also a musical about falling in love, as I’m sure you’ll find out by coming to check it out, mate.
The story involves a politically driven, Cold War–era chess tournament between two men—an American grand-master and a Soviet grand-master—and their battle over a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other.
Written by Benny and Bjorn from Abba with Tim Rice adding lyrics you are guaranteed on an amazingly good soundtrack. But a soundtrack that is intricate in its’ composition and not easy to sing, which is why it’s not performed that often, especially by local theatre groups.
Several of the songs you will already know as “Nobody’s Side” was a minor chart hit for Elaine Paige, “One Night In Bangkok” was a massive hit for Murray Head and “I Know Him So Well” went to number one for Barbara Dickson and Elaine Paige”. But the cherry on the cake with this soundtrack is the gorgeous “Anthem” and the powerful and emotive “Pity The Child”
Directed, and Musically Directed by Meng Khaw, who knows the ins and outs of this musical as last year played The Arbiter at Loughborough. It looks like he created a whole new opening for this show, one that I’d not seen before and really enjoyed.
Meng has also taken the lead from Tim Rice’s notes about being able to change the order of the songs and decided not to open the second act with “One Night In Bangkok”, instead moving it slightly later in Act Two.
The orchestra were powerful and just when you thought they were about to overpower the singers, they reigned it back in, complementing the rock opera feel of the show. A great sound mix by Rob Kettridge.
Playing that part here is John Gill. Now this I think is the first time that I have actually heard John sing like this and it really suits his voice. A pleasant surprise.
Another big surprise was hearing Christopher Collins sing. He is not known for his singing and he has shied away from featured singing roles, but after tonight, Chris, I think you need to start auditioning for more musicals This man has hid his singing voice under a bushel for far too long, and it’s about time it was released as it was tonight. A real eye-opener vocal wise and a very believable Russian accent.
Kate Taylor plays Florence Vassy, the woman who is Trumper’s right hand woman, and then falls for his rival, the Russian Sergievsky. What a voice this woman has, and she has the power. Hearing her sing “Nobody’s Side” gave me tingles up my spine and would give Ms Paige a run for her money. Plus her duet with Anatoly’s wife, Svetlana, “I Know Him So Well” was magical.
Playing Svetlana Sergievskaya is Zosia Kuczynska. Another cracker of a vocalist and an excellent match for Kate, which is why the duet works so well.
Walter de Courcey is the Head of an American TV corporation and a member of the American delegation, and is played by Curtis Taylor-Tipton. I’ve seen Curtis many times in musicals so know what a lovely range and tone this man has to his voice,He effortlessly performs his songs.
Playing The American chess player, Freddie Trumper is one man who has a wonderful rock voice, and shows it off to splendid affect in the song “Pity the Child”, Sam Barson. Not only has this man clarity in his vocals he has the power as well as the passion. His look is modern and fits the part of the power hungry American.
Trumper’s rival, the Russian counterpart in the tournament and the musical, Anatoly Sergievskaya, is played by Rob Goll. Rob has always said that he is no singer but after his singing in last year’s PTC panto, which surprised me in a good way, it was with anticipation that I awaited Rob’s vocals, especially as he was singing “Anthem” which is not a song to be performed halfheartedly. He threw every ounce of emotion into it and also gave me tingles up my spine.
Rob can sing, but this role I feel is just a bit too full on, vocal wise for him. At times his voice was spot on but there were times when he was stretching himself. What does not help is that Rob is surrounded by some powerful singers. I know that Rob was nervous about this singing role, and I know Rob puts everything into what he does, and I totally applaud him for stepping out of his comfort zone with this part. He’s still in my eyes one of Nottingham’s best classic actors, and I still think he did a credible job here.
The ensemble is full of well recognised faces from local stages, and a few new faces as well as a few faces who are returning to the local theatre arena.T start with I was not sure that the ensemble needed to be the size it was but when they all came together for “Endgame”, the sound they produced was heavenly.
Loved the set design by Cris Brawn, which was simple, which is what this musical calls for as it gives the cast and music the full focus. The screened back drop allowed for the scene settings to be projected, which is something fairly new for PTC and it also worked well.
Over the past few weeks I’ve bumped into and spoken to several of the cast members and they have a real excitement about this musical. An excitement that I, for one have not seen in a cast for a while. Now if they are excited for the show, this tells me that the show was going to be an absolute cracker. Well their excitement was well founded and the show IS a real cracker.
This musical isn’t going to be to everyone’s liking, and I applaud PTC for taking a chance. personally I love the story and the wonderful soundtrack with all of it’s wonderful, intricate arrangements. the sort you’d expect from the writers of Abba’s hits and some of the best rock operas ever, Tim Rice.
So go on, make a move and take a chance on this musical!”

 

East Midlands Theatre

“Political unrest as a background to a play or musical can provide the story with some proper meaty stuff to work from and with. Just think Miss Saigon or Les Misérables, both shows set amongst periods of great civil unrest and war. The musical Chess sits itself within past and present historical contexts with the contemporary playing centre being the early 1980s. During these times the dangers from the USSR have influenced the Cuban Missile threat. The 1956 Hungarian Revolution hangs grimly in the memories of the Hungarians. There is unsteady and shifting politics of the Warsaw Pact, and general unrest in Eastern Bloc Communist countries. Capitalism alongside imperialism in the West historically made for powder keg moments just waiting to explode. Mistrust is everywhere.

In the politically charged world of international Chess tournaments Russia was virtually unbeatable and had been for decades. The real life story of USA Chess maverick Bobby Fischer versus USSR’s Boris Spassky forms the basis and grand inspiration for the musical Chess – excepting the opponents have different names and theatrically enhanced lives, complete with lovers and defections.

In Chess, attack and counter attack, deceit and surprise, deep desires for the game of chess and the tricksy games of human desire abound. The critical mental aptitude to ‘be and 100% remain’ an absolute world champion winner is without question in each of the main chess playing protagonist’s minds and total being.

Tim Rice has described the musical as being a ‘wayward child’. The other creative Chess partners, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, agree, adding that ‘the continued enjoyment in it lies not in any rigid and predictable storyline but in the fascinations to be found in the conundrums of the central characters. It is a show about dilemmas rather than solutions and productions find its essence incarnated through new possibilities as much as established certainties.’ So, very unusually for a musical, permission has been granted to play around with the placement of songs and structure as long as the central story gets truthfully told.

The amateur People’s Theatre Company, Nottingham, through their director Meng Khaw, have done just that. They have arrived at a staging which contains the central stories but adds much more insight to the journeys of the characters and their final denouement. The addition of extremely well thought through sections of imagery both still and video based, projected on to a large background screen, massively helps with the story telling and has real professional authenticity built into its visual creations. This impressive audiovisual design is the work of Chris Collins, Meng Khaw and Gareth Morris.

The live orchestra featuring keyboards, violin, cello, flute and piccalo, clarinet, trumpet, lead guitar, bass and percussion do an excellent job with a very complex and varied score and challenging arrangements.

The general sound quality and diction of the central characters is commendable and a particular bonus in an amateur cast without professional training. In sung drama and straight drama it is vital we actually hear the words of the songs/text, even if the actors are miked up, otherwise how do we follow the story?

This version of Chess very much seems to be the character Florence’s story (Kate Taylor) as much as the Russian Anatoly Sergievsky (Rob Goll) and Frederick Trumper (Sam Barson). Whilst there are some well trained and applied musical theatre voices in this grouping, Taylor’s singing and acting is exceptionally good. As Florence she has the talents to cope with such numbers as ‘Quartet’, ‘1956, Budapest is rising’, ‘Nobody’s Side’, ‘Mountain Duet’, the stirring ‘Heaven Help My Heart’, ‘You and I’ and the infamous duet ‘I Know Him So Well’ sung with the excellent Zozia Kuczyńsha as Svetlana Sergievskaya. Kuczyńsha’s ‘Someone Else’s Story’, has real ring of genuine feeling to it and although she is on the stage a comparatively short time in Chess Kuczyńsha makes the most of her part as the distant wife of Anatoly Sergievsky.

Goll imbues his quiet Russian character Anatoly Sergievsky with a great deal of inner strength and fortitude. Goll’s tremendous acting skills help balance out his lesser experience in singing. Goll has clearly worked hard to up his game and sings a majestically belting version of ‘Anthem’ as well as the ambitious ‘Where I Want To Be’ plus various duets with Florence and other sung through material. His work is one of the triumphs of the evening.

Sam Barson’s Frederick Trumper, a US chess playing bad boy is enjoyably played and dramatically sung by Barson. His part has some of the meatier songs and he clearly revels in his abilities to hit the high notes in ‘Rock Merano’, ‘One Night In Bangkok’, ‘Talking Chess’, ‘Florence Quits’ and is super exciting in his raw version of ‘Pity The Child’. Barson makes Trumper less of an arrogant hate figure and more of an annoying childish and attention grabbing, űber talented chess player.

John Gill’s The Arbiter is spot on vocally and Gill puts in a commanding performance with great authority. As chess playing second, Alexander Molokov, Chris Collins’ performance is perhaps the surprise of the evening. Collins has a strong and personality full singing voice and he has real stage presence and authentic accent on all of his songs including ‘Soviet Machine’ and the menacing ‘Anatoly and Molokov’. Curtis Taylor -Tipton is professionally confident as head of an American TV corporation character Walter de Courcey and sings beautifully.

The large ensemble do a fantastic job with the general chorus work and choral number ‘Endgame’ and this reviewer particularly likes their ‘Embassy Lament’ and wishes it had a well deserved round of applause. The Chess Championships 1 and 2 work well with the crowds watching facing forward but the inclusion of the dancers in this viewers opinion is a mistake. The dramatically scored chess games are enough to hold an audience’s attention for the duration. The ballet dancing element distracts although the two girls are very confident in their dancing.
Cris Brawn’s set design with its giant Russian style knights and pawns really sets the scene for the show and Rob Kettridge’s sound is pitch perfect in the Arts Theatre where sound issues have been difficult to resolve with its high auditorium ceiling. Chris Mercer’s lighting design works on many levels to build the drama. The lighting of the chess board table is pure cheesy 1980s genius.

For a chance to visit a brilliant and complex musical that has a quality cast and plenty of enthusiasm and talent one should seriously consider booking as soon as possible. Chess at The Nottingham Arts Theatre runs until Saturday”