Chess (musical)

Chess (musical)
Original Cast Recording - Chess.jpg
Concept Album Cover
Music Benny Andersson
Björn Ulvaeus
Lyrics Tim Rice
Björn Ulvaeus
Book Richard Nelson
Productions 1984 European concert tour
1986 West End
1988 Broadway
1989 Carnegie Hall concert
1989 Skellefteå concert
1990 United States Tour
1990 Sydney
1992 Budapest
1994 Gothenburg concert
1995 Los Angeles
1997 Melbourne
2001 Denmark tour
2002 Stockholm
2003 Broadway concert
2005 Norway concert
2006 Tartu
2007 Los Angeles
2008 Johannesburg
2008 Cape Town
2008 London concert
2010 Arlington
2010 U.K. tour
2011 Aberystwyth
2011 Charlotte
2011 Dublin
2011 Bielefeld
2011 Toronto
2012 Denver
2012 Århus

Chess is a musical with music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, formerly of ABBA, and with lyrics by Tim Rice. The story involves a romantic triangle between two top players, an American and a Russian, in a world chess championship, and a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other; all in the context of a Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, during which both countries wanted to win international chess tournaments for propaganda purposes. Although the protagonists were not intended to represent any specific individuals, the character of the American was loosely based on chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer,[1] while elements of the story may have been inspired by the chess careers of Russian grandmasters Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov.[2]

As had been done with Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, a highly successful concept album of Chess was released in 1984. The first theatrical production of Chess opened in London's West End in 1986 and played for three years. A much-altered U.S. version premièred on Broadway in 1988, but survived only for two months. Chess is frequently revised for new productions, many of which try to merge elements from both the London and Broadway versions; however, no major revival production of the musical has yet been attempted either on West End or Broadway.

Chess came seventh in a BBC Radio 2 listener poll of the U.K.'s "Number One Essential Musicals."[3]



Lyricist Tim Rice had long wanted to create a musical about the Cold War. During the 1970s, he had discussed writing a musical about the Cuban Missile Crisis with his usual collaborator, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. In the late 1970s, Rice got the idea to instead tell the story through the prism of the long-standing U.S.-Soviet chess rivalry; he had earlier been fascinated by the political machinations of the 1972 "Match of the Century" between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky.[4]

In 1979, when Rice wanted to start working on the musical, Webber was already busy with the musical Cats, which would premiere in 1981, and then become one of most successful musicals of all time. Cats was also the first musical to employ such a huge engineering staff in order to pull off its many technical elements, a concept which would be incorporated into Chess in numerous capacities during its development.

Subsequently, American producer Richard Vos suggested to Rice to work with Andersson and Ulvaeus instead, knowing they were looking to develop and produce various projects outside of ABBA. Rice, who was a fan of the group, agreed. He wrote later that he felt no reservations because "there is a sense of theatre in the ABBA style".[5] With Vos also in attendance, Rice met with the two for the first time in Stockholm in December 1981 in order to discuss the concept, and they quickly signed on to the project.

ABBA stopped performing a year later, due to tensions between the two couples as well as their recent divorces.

All through 1983, the three men worked on the music and lyrics. Rice would describe the mood of particular songs he wanted, then Andersson and Ulvaeus would write and record the music and send the tapes to Rice, who would then write lyrics to fit the music, and send the resulting tapes back to Andersson and Ulvaeus ad infinitum.

Some of the songs on the resulting album contained elements of music they had previously written for ABBA. For example, the chorus of "I Know Him So Well" was based on the chorus of "I Am An A," a song from their 1977 tour,[6] while the chorus of "Anthem" used the chord structures from the guitar solo from their 1979 song "Our Last Summer".

Ulvaeus would also provide dummy lyrics to emphasize the rhythmic patterns of the music, and since Rice found a number of these "embarrassingly good" as they were, incorporated a few in the final version. The most well known example is "One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble". [7] One song, which became "Heaven Help My Heart," was recorded with an entire set of lyrics, sung by ABBA's Agnetha Fältskog, with the title "Every Good Man",[6] though none of the original lyrics from this song were used.

Partly to raise money in order to produce the show in the West End and partly to see how the material would fare with the public, it was decided to release the music as an album before any stage productions were undertaken, a strategy that had proven successful with Rice's two previous musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita.

Owing in part to the different countries in which the lyricist and composers resided, recording on the album musical of Chess began in Stockholm in early November 1983, with Andersson recording the many layered keyboard parts himself along with other basic work at their usual Polar Studios. Choral and orchestral work was then recorded in London by The Ambrosian Singers along with the London Symphony Orchestra and the album was sound-engineered and mixed back at Polar by longtime ABBA sound engineer Michael B. Tretow.

The original album


The double LP, often referred to as a concept album or album musical, was released worldwide in the fall of 1984. Liner notes included with the album featured a basic synopsis of the story in multiple languages along with song lyrics and numerous photos. The music on the album was described by The New York Times as "a sumptuously recorded...grandiose pastiche that touches half a dozen bases, from Gilbert and Sullivan to late Rodgers and Hammerstein, from Italian opera to trendy synthesizer-based pop, all of it lavishly arranged for the London Symphony Orchestra with splashy electronic embellishments".[8]

A single from the album, "One Night in Bangkok," with verses performed by Murray Head and choruses performed by Anders Glenmark became a worldwide smash, reaching No.3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The duet "I Know Him So Well" by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson held the Number One spot on the U.K. singles charts for 4 weeks, winning the Ivor Novello Award in the process as the Best Selling Single ('A' Side).

In addition, the tune was later covered not only by Whitney Houston and her mother Cissy as a duet for her sophomore release Whitney, but also by Barbra Streisand, who recorded it originally for The Broadway Album released in 1985. However, the track was deleted from the album due to lack of space and remained unreleased until it was featured on her 1992 album "Highlights from Just for the Record".

On 27 October 1984, a concert version of the Chess album was premiered by the original cast in London's Barbican Centre and then performed in Hamburg, Amsterdam and Paris with final presentation on 1 November in Berwaldhallen in Stockholm.

In 1985, music videos were filmed for the songs "One Night in Bangkok," "Nobody's Side," "The Arbiter," "I Know Him So Well," and "Pity the Child," featuring the performers from the album, and directed by David G. Hillier. These were released together in a VHS video entitled Chess Moves.


The original concept album received critical accolades, with Rolling Stone raving that the "dazzling score covers nearly all the pop bases", Kurt Ganzl's Blackwell Guide to the Musical Theatre on Record telling readers about the "thrilling exposition of an exciting piece of modern musical theater occurring before the event" and Time declaring that the "rock symphonic synthesis was ripe with sophistication and hummable tunes".

The album became a Top 10 hit in the U.K., West Germany and South Africa, reached number 47 on the US Billboard 200, number 39 in France, number 35 in Australia, and for seven weeks remained at number 1 on the Swedish album chart due in no small part to the composers' Swedish heritage. The recording also received several prestigious awards, including the Goldene Europa from Germany, the Edison Award from the Netherlands and the Rockbjörnen from Sweden.

Principal cast

The protagonists, simply called the "American" and the "Russian" for the original album, were sung by Murray Head and Tommy Körberg, respectively. The part of Florence, initially the American's second and subsequently the Russian's lover, was sung by longtime British pop star Elaine Paige, while the part of Svetlana, the Russian's wife, was sung by Barbara Dickson.


Act 1
  • "Merano" (6:59) – Chorus of Townspeople, The American
  • "The Russian and Molokov" / "Where I Want to Be" (6:19) – The Russian and Molokov / The Russian
  • "Opening Ceremony" (9:18) – The Arbiter with Ensemble of Townspeople, Russian Heavies and Merchandisers
  • "Quartet (A Model of Decorum and Tranquility)" (2:17) – Molokov, Florence, The American and The Russian
  • "The American and Florence" / "Nobody's Side" (5:25) – Florence and The American / Florence
  • "Chess" (5:44) – Instrumental
  • "Mountain Duet" (4:42) – Florence and The Russian
  • "Florence Quits" (2:52) – Florence and The American
  • "Embassy Lament" (1:30) - Chorus of Embassy Clerks
  • "Anthem" (3:03) – The Russian
Act 2
  • "Bangkok" / "One Night in Bangkok" (5:00) – The American and Ensemble
  • "Heaven Help My Heart" (3:29) – Florence
  • "Argument" (1:50) – Florence and The Russian
  • I Know Him So Well" (4:16) – Florence and Svetlana
  • "The Deal (No Deal)" (3:55) - The American, The Russian, Molokov and Florence
  • "Pity the Child" (5:29) – The American
  • "Endgame" (10:46) – The Russian, The American, Florence, Svetlana and Ensemble
  • "Epilogue: You and I" / "The Story of Chess" / "You and I (Reprise)" (10:24) – Florence, The Russian, and Svetlana

West End staged production, U.K. (1986–1989)


Chess premièred in the West End on 14 May 1986 at the Prince Edward Theatre and closed on 8 April 1989. The original production was originally set to be directed by Michael Bennett, however after casting the show and commissioning the expansive set and costume designs, he withdrew from the project due to health reasons.

The show was rescued by director Trevor Nunn, who with considerable technical difficulty, eventually shepherded the show on to its scheduled opening. The three principal singers from the concept album, Elaine Paige, Tommy Körberg and Murray Head reprised their roles on stage, however due to prior committments, Barbara Dickson was unable to appear. Siobhán McCarthy played the part of Svetlana as a result.

According to set designer Robin Wagner, as interviewed for the book Set Design, by author Lynn Pecktal, the original Bennett version was to be a "multimedia" show, with an elaborate tilting floor, banks of television monitors, and other technological touches. Realizing he could never bring Bennett’s vision to fruition, Nunn applied his realistic style to the show instead, although the basics of the mammoth set design were still present in the final production. These included three videowalls, the main of which featured commentary from chess master William Hartston, and appearances from various BBC newsreaders rounding out the package.

The London version expanded the storyline of the concept album, adding considerable new recitative, and attracted several West End stars, such as Anthony Head, Grania Renihan, Ria Jones, David Burt, and Peter Karrie, during its three year run, and was a massive physical undertaking, with estimated costs up to $12 million.

Eight months later, the nomination and a win came in for the Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Musical, and the show received three 1986 Laurence Olivier Award nominations for Best Musical, Outstanding Performance by an Actor (Tommy Körberg) and Outstanding Performance by an Actress (Elaine Paige) as well. In a twist of irony, in the categories of Best Musical and Outstanding Performance by an Actor, Chess lost to The Phantom of the Opera, by Rice's former collaborator Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Critical reception

The premiere of the musical provoked an overall mixed to favourable verdict from the critics and, according to Variety, created "one of the bigger West End mob-scenes in recent memory". Most of the naysaying notices had comments ranging from "far too long" and "shallow, improbable story masquerading as a serious musical" from The Sunday Times to The Guardian's conclusion that, "A musical is only as good as its book, and here one is confronted by an inchoate mess."

Other newspapers posted rave reviews however. The Daily Telegraph wrote that the show was "gift-wrapped and gorgeous...compels admiration," The Times noted that "it turns out to be a fine piece of work that shows the dinosaur mega-musical evolving into an intelligent form of life" and Today called it "gripping, eye-catching.. nearly a major triumph".

In addition, Michael Ratcliffe wrote in Observer that the "operetta plot which would have delighted a mature Lehar is dramatised in a buoyant, eclectic and stirring theatre-score" and called Körberg "the indisputable star of the show". Sheridan Morley in International Herald Tribune complimented the show's "remarkably coherent dramatic shape" and "staging of considerable intelligence and invention".


Act 1

The president of the International Chess Federation explains the history of the game of chess ("Story of Chess"), before announcing the location of the upcoming world chess championship: the northern Italian town of Merano (the year of this tournament being 1979, according to the notes in the recent live album recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra). As the townsfolk prepare for the occasion ("Merano"), the brash American champion Frederick Trumper arrives with his second and implied lover: Hungarian-born, British-raised Florence Vassy ("What a Scene! What a Joy!"). In their hotel room, Florence explains to Freddie that the press will portray him badly if he continues with his bad boy behavior ("Commie Newspapers"), just before he heads off to a press conference where he attacks a journalist who questions his relationship with Florence ("Press Conference"). Freddie's Russian challenger, Anatoly Sergievsky and Alexander Molokov, Anatoly's second (and a KGB agent), watch with curiosity and disdain on TV ("Anatoly and Molokov"), before Anatoly laments the selling out of his dreams and ambitions to get where he is today ("Where I Want to Be").

The opening ceremony features the U.S. and Soviet delegates each vowing their side will win ("Difficult and Dangerous Times"), the Chess Federation president (who is also the referee of the tournament: The Arbiter) insisting on holding the proceedings together ("The Arbiter"), and marketers looking to make a profit ("The Merchandisers"). During the increasingly intense match, Freddie suddenly bursts out of the arena, leaving the chessboard on the floor ("Chess #1"), and Florence to pick up the pieces with Anatoly, Molokov, and The Arbiter, whereby she promises to bring Freddie and Anatoly together to sort out their issues ("Quartet – A Model of Decorum and Tranquility"). It turns out that Freddie engineered the outburst to get a higher price from the American media company, Global Television, though Walter de Courcey, the company's agent overseeing the match and a member of Freddie's delegation, criticizes the stunt as ludicrous. When Florence finds out, she and Freddie argue, leading Florence to get angry with Freddie when he maliciously turns the argument toward her father, believed captured by Soviet forces during the 1956 Budapest uprising ("1956 – Budapest is Rising"). She reflects cynically about chess and politics ("Nobody's Side") before heading off to the Merano Mountain Inn for the meeting between the two sides. Freddie does not immediately turn up, leaving Anatoly and Florence awkwardly alone together; however, they eventually embrace as surprising romantic feelings arise before being interrupted by Freddie, who has been working out new financial terms with Global TV ("Mountain Duet").

The chess tournament proceeds, culminating in a series of victories for Anatoly with only one game left to determine the winner of the entire tournament ("Chess #2"). Due to Freddie's atrocious attitude in the aftermath of his defeats, Florence leaves him ("Florence Quits"), whereby Freddie ponders how his unhappy childhood left him the man he is today ("Pity the Child"). He sends The Arbiter a letter of resignation, resulting in Anatoly's becoming the new world champion. Immediately, Anatoly defects from the Soviet Union and goes to the British embassy, where he attempts to seek asylum in England ("Embassy Lament"). Florence, accompanying Anatoly, reflects on their new-found love ("Heaven Help My Heart"). Walter tips off the press as to this new story and they ambush Anatoly and Florence at Merano Station ("Anatoly and the Press"). When the mob of reporters asks Anatoly why he is deserting his country, he tells them that his land's only borders lie around his heart. ("Anthem")

Act 2

A year later, Anatoly is set to defend his championship in Bangkok, Thailand ("Golden Bangkok"). Freddie is already there, chatting up locals and experiencing the Bangkok nightlife ("One Night in Bangkok") because he is now Global TV's chess pundit and their special presenter for this year's championship. Florence and Anatoly are now openly lovers, and worry about Freddie's sudden reappearance as well as the impending arrival of Anatoly's estranged wife, Svetlana, from Russia ("One More Opponent" / "You and I"), which Anatoly suspects is part of Molokov's plan to shame him into returning to the Soviet Union. Molokov, meanwhile, has trained a new protégé, Leonid Viigand, to challenge Anatoly, while spying on the opposing pair and plotting Anatoly's downfall ("The Soviet Machine").

Walter, now Freddie's boss at Global (and clearly a CIA agent), manipulates Freddie into embarrassing Anatoly on live TV during an uncomfortable and eventually heated interview between the two former opponents. Anatoly finally storms out after being prodded ruthlessly by Freddie and shown footage of Svetlana's arrival ("The Interview"). Molokov, who indeed is responsible for Svetlana's presence in Bangkok, now blackmails her into making Anatoly lose the match. Walter, who has been promised the release of certain American agents if he can ruin Anatoly's game, informs Florence that her father is still alive though imprisoned in Russia, and that he too will be released if she can convince Anatoly to lose. Neither of these ploys work to get Anatoly to throw the game, however, so Molokov and Walter team up to get Freddie to personally persuade Anatoly and Florence, knowing that Freddie is vengeful toward Anatoly and interested in winning back the love of Florence. The pair, though, refuses to negotiate with Freddie ("The Deal").

Svetlana and Florence talk one-on-one for the first time about their relationships with Anatoly, Florence ultimately admitting that it would be best for Anatoly to return to his family ("I Know Him So Well"). Anatoly, meanwhile, is sent an anonymous letter telling him to go to Wat Pho, which he does; to his surprise, Freddie appears, having decided to disconnect from his personal issues with the tournament and to merely facilitate a brilliant match, regardless of his own conflicts with Anatoly. Because of this new change in attitude, Freddie informs Anatoly of a significant flaw in Viigand's play that will help Anatoly win ("Talking Chess"). In the deciding game of the match, with the score at five games all, Anatoly manages to take a superb win against Viigand, and realizes that it may be the only success he can achieve in his life at this time; the victory comes even as Svetlana castigates Anatoly for wallowing in the crowd's empty praise and Florence expresses similar annoyance with him for casting aside his moral ideals ("Endgame"). Later, Florence admits her sentiments about how he should return to the Soviet Union and the pair reflects on their story that seemed so promising ("You and I – Reprise"). Florence is left alone when Walter approaches to inform her that Anatoly has unexpectedly defected back to the U.S.S.R., meaning that her father will certainly be released. He startlingly admits, however, that no one actually knows if her father is still alive. Florence breaks down, telling Walter that he is using people's lives for nothing, before repeating Anatoly's sentiments from the end of the first act, that her only borders lie around her heart ("Finale").


Act 1
  • “Prologue” — Instrumental
  • “The Story of Chess” — The Arbiter and Ensemble
  • “Merano”
    • “Merano" — Mayor and Ensemble
    • “What a Scene! What a Joy!" — Freddie and Florence
    • “Merano (Reprise)” — Ensemble
  • “Commie Newspapers” — Freddie and Florence
  • “Press Conference” — Freddie, Florence, and Reporters
  • “Anatoly and Molokov” / “Where I Want to Be” — Molokov, Anatoly, and Ensemble
  • “Difficult and Dangerous Times” — Molokov, Walter, and Ensemble
  • “The Arbiter” — The Arbiter and Ensemble
  • “Hymn to Chess” — Ensemble
  • “The Merchandisers” — Ensemble
  • “Chess #1” — Instrumental
  • “The Arbiter (Reprise)” — The Arbiter and Ensemble
  • “Quartet (A Model of Decorum and Tranquility)” — Molokov, Florence, The Arbiter, and Anatoly
  • “Florence and Molokov” — Molokov and Florence
  • “1956 – Budapest is Rising” — Ensemble, Freddie and Florence
  • “Nobody's Side” — Florence and Ensemble
  • “Mountain Duet” — Florence, Anatoly, and Freddie
  • “Chess #2” — Instrumental
  • “Florence Quits” — Freddie and Florence
  • “Pity the Child” — Freddie and Ensemble
  • “Embassy Lament” — English Civil Servants
  • “Heaven Help My Heart” — Florence
  • “Anatoly and the Press” — Anatoly and Reporters
  • “Anthem” — Anatoly and Ensemble
Act 2
  • “Golden Bangkok” / “One Night in Bangkok” — Instrumental / Freddie and Ensemble
  • “One More Opponent” / “You and I” — Anatoly and Florence
  • “The Soviet Machine” — Molokov and Ensemble
  • “The Interview” — Walter, Freddie, and Anatoly
  • “The Deal” — The Arbiter, Molokov, Svetlana, Walter, Florence, Freddie, Anatoly, and Ensemble
  • “I Know Him So Well” — Florence and Svetlana
  • “Talking Chess” — Anatoly and Freddie
  • “Endgame” — Ensemble, Molokov, Freddie, Florence, Anatoly and Svetlana
  • “You and I (Reprise)” — Florence and Anatoly
  • “Finale” — Walter and Florence

The multiple songs listed here are often merged on recordings into a single track.
Song is alternately titled "U.S. vs U.S.S.R."

Original cast

  • Frederick Trumper – Murray Head
  • Florence Vassy – Elaine Paige
  • Anatoly Sergievsky – Tommy Körberg
  • Alexander Molokov – John Turner
  • Walter de Courcey – Kevin Colson
  • The Arbiter – Tom Jobe
  • Svetlana Sergievsky – Siobhán McCarthy
  • Mayor of Merano – Richard Mitchell
  • T.V. Presenter – Peter Karrie
  • Civil Servants – Richard Lyndon, Paul Wilson

Broadway staged production, U.S. (1988)


After London, the creative team decided that the show had to be reimagined from the top down. Trevor Nunn brought in playwright Richard Nelson to recreate the musical as a straightforward "book show" for New York's Broadway audiences. Nunn brought in new, younger principals after he disqualified Paige from the role of Florence by insisting Nelson recreate the character as an American. The story changed drastically, with different settings, characters, and many different plot elements, although the basic plot remained the same. As Benny Andersson put it to Variety: "The main difference between London and here is that in London there is only about two or three minutes of spoken dialog. Here, in order to clarify some points, it is almost one-third dialog". The changes necessitated the score to be reordered as well, and comparisons of the Broadway cast recording and the original concept album reveal the dramatic extent of the changes. Robin Wagner completely redesigned the set, which featured a ground-breaking design of mobile towers that shifted continuously throughout the show, in an attempt to give it a sense of cinematic fluidity.

The first preview on 11 April 1988 ran 4 hours with an unexpected 90 minute intermission (the stage crew reportedly had problems with the sets); by opening night on 28 April, it was down to 3 hours 15 minutes. But despite a healthy box-office advance, the Broadway production did not manage to sustain a consistently large audience and closed on 25 June, after 17 previews and 68 regular performances. "And there I was, on closing night, singing and sobbing along," later wrote Time magazine critic Richard Corliss.

Overall, the show (capitalized at $6 million) since its opening, according to Variety, "has been doing moderate business, mainly on the strength of theater party advances," but by mid-June it mostly have been used up. Gerald Schoenfeld, co-producer of the show, elaborated on the reasons for folding the production: "The musical had been playing to about 80 percent capacity, which is considered good, but about 50 percent of the audience have held special, half-priced tickets. If we filled the house at 100 percent at half price, we'd go broke and I haven't seen any surge of tourist business yet this season. The show needs a $350,000 weekly gross to break even, but only a few weeks since its April 28 opening have reached that.... You have to consider what your grosses are going to be in the future" (USA Today, June 21, 1988).

The Broadway production picked up several major award nominations. It got five nods from the Drama Desk Awards: Outstanding Actor in a Musical (David Carroll), Outstanding Actress in a Musical (Judy Kuhn), Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical (Harry Goz), Outstanding Music (Andersson and Ulvaeus) and Outstanding Lighting Design (David Hersey). Carroll and Kuhn also received Tony Award nominations in Leading Actor in a Musical and Leading Actress in a Musical categories. None of the nominations resulted in the win, but Philip Casnoff did receive the 1988 Theatre World Award for Best Debut Performance. Original Broadway Cast recording of the musical was nominated for 1988 Grammy Award in the category Best Musical Cast Show Album (won by the Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods).

Later on, the musical had developed a cult following based primarily on the score as heard on the original concept album (Frank Rich noted in his book Hot Seat that "the score retains its devoted fans"), while Nelson's book became a frequent target of scorn from critics and fans alike[who?], though it still has its supporters[who?]. Many subsequent attempts have been made to fix its perceived problems, but nonetheless, Nelson's book is still used in many American productions, because a contractual stipulation, ostensibly[citation needed], prevents the London version, which many believe to be the source of the show's popularity and appeal, from being performed within the United States. However, the May-June 2011 production in Charlotte, North Carolina, relied much more heavily on the West End version than the Broadway version,[9] and was very similar to the 2010-2011 UK touring version.

In 2001, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle Tim Rice admitted that after the "comparative failure of Chess, his all-time favourite, he became disillusioned with theatre." He commented, "It may sound arrogant, but Chess is as good as anything I've ever done. And maybe it costs too much brainpower for the average person to follow it".[10]

Critical reception

Many critics panned the show, most notably Frank Rich of The New York Times, who wrote that "the evening has the theatrical consistency of quicksand" and described it as "a suite of temper tantrums, [where] the characters ... yell at one another to rock music". Howard Kissel of New York Daily News complained that "the show is shrilly overamplified" and "neither of the love stories is emotionally involving," while Newsweek magazine called the show a "Broadway's monster" and opined that "Chess" assaults the audience with a relentless barrage of scenes and numbers that are muscle-bound with self-importance".

A few reviewers, however, praised it very highly. William A. Henry III wrote an exceptionally sympathetic review in Time: "Clear narrative drive, Nunn's cinematic staging, three superb leading performances by actors willing to be complex and unlikeable and one of the best rock scores ever produced in the theater. This is an angry, difficult, demanding and rewarding show, one that pushes the boundaries of the form" (Time, May 9, 1988). His sentiments were echoed by William K. Gale in Providence Journal: "A show with a solid, even wonderfully old-fashioned story that still has a bitter-sweet, rough-edged view of the world ... exciting, dynamic theater ... a match of wit and passion."

Richard Christiansen of Chicago Tribune suggested that "Chess falters despite new strategy," yet concluded his review: "Audiences forgive a lot of failings when they find a show that touches them with its music, and Chess, clumsy and overblown as it sometimes is in its three hours-plus running time, gives them that heart". Welton Jones wrote in The San Diego Union-Tribune that Chess "has one of the richest, most exciting scores heard on Broadway in years ... Sadly, the music has been encumbered with an overwritten book and an uninspired staging ... Truly, this is a score to be treasured, held ransom by a questionable book and production".

All critics agreed, though, on the three leading performances by Judy Kuhn, David Carroll and Philip Casnoff. They were showered with praise — "splendid and gallant" (Newsweek), "powerful singers" (The New York Times), "remarkably fine" (New York Post) — especially Kuhn, whose performance Variety called a "show's chief pleasure".

Benny Andersson commented on the negative Broadway reviews: "I really don't know why they don't like it ... I do know that most of the audiences so far stand up and cheer for everyone at the end. They appear to get emotionally involved with the show, and they really like it" (Variety, May 4, 1988).


The American version has different settings and a completely different Act 2 from the West End, London version. In particular, the entire show is about one chess match, not two. Act 1 involves the first part of the match, which is held in Bangkok, Thailand, while Act 2 handles the conclusion, and is set in Budapest, Hungary. Also, the incumbent champion is switched in the American version (that is, Anatoly Sergievsky rather than Freddie Trumper) as is the winner of the final Sergievsky-Trumper match (i.e. Trumper rather than Sergievsky).

Act 1

In 1956, a Hungarian revolutionary, Gregor Vassy, calmly explains to his daughter Florence the history of chess, before the two are separated in the midst of a violent rebellion in Budapest ("Prologue" / "The Story of Chess"). Decades later at a press conference, a brash American chess player, Freddie Trumper, relishes the crowd's affection in Bangkok ("Press Conference"), while the current world champion, a young Russian named Anatoly Sergievsky, and his second, Molokov (a KGB agent), watch with curiosity and disdain ("Where I Want to Be"). During the match ("Chess"), Freddie accuses Anatoly of receiving outside help via the flavor of yogurt he is eating, and Freddie storms out, leaving his second, Florence (now an émigrée in the U.S. who escaped Hungary during the 1956 uprisings) in an argument with The Arbiter and the Russians. Florence later scolds Freddie, but he insists that she should unwaveringly support him ("You Want to Lose Your Only Friend?").

Freddie, supposed to attend a meeting with Florence and Antoly to smooth things over, is sidetracked by the nightlife ("One Night in Bangkok") and shows up late, stumbling upon the scene of Anatoly and Florence who—having waited a while for Freddie's arrival—quickly developed feelings for one another and are now holding hands ("Terrace Duet"). When Freddie accuses Florence of conspiring against him, she decides to leave him ("Florence Quits" / "Nobody's Side"). As the match continues, Freddie, distracted by his developing personal problems, flounders, finishing the first act with 1 win and 5 losses; one more loss will cost him the match. Anatoly surprises everyone by suddenly defecting from the Soviet Union. Answering reporters' questions about his loyalties, he declares that national borders do not matter to him as much as the borders around his heart, i.e. his new-found love for Florence ("Anthem").

Act 2

Eight weeks later, everyone is in Budapest to witness the conclusion of the match ("The Arbiter" / "Hungarian Folk Song"). Florence is elated to be back in her hometown of Budapest, but dismayed that she remembers none of it ("Heaven Help My Heart"). The scheming Molokov offers to help her find her missing father and starts "investigating" the fate of Florence's father. The plot quickly spins into political intrigue involving the Russians' attempts to get Anatoly back ("No Contest"); even Svetlana, Anatoly's estranged wife, has been flown into Budapest to pressure him to return to the Soviet Union. These threats strain Anatoly's relationship with Florence ("You and I"), and she shares her woes with Svetlana ("I Know Him So Well"). The boot is on the other foot, and the stress of personal problems now impedes Anatoly's ability to play chess, so that Freddie starts winning games until they are tied 5–5. Molokov brings Florence to see a man claiming to be her father ("Lullaby"), and implies that harm will come to the man if Florence remains with Anatoly.

During the final game Anatoly realizes that despite all the harm he has brought with his defection, he cannot hurt his true love, Florence, by depriving her of her father. He chooses to recant his defection and makes a tactical error during the game. Freddie immediately takes advantage of the blunder and proceeds to win the game and the match, becoming the new world champion ("Endgame"). Anatoly returns to Russia a broken man.

Florence is waiting for her father so they can leave for America when she is approached by a stranger who introduces himself as Walter. He confesses to her that the old man is not her father and her father is most likely dead. It seems that the Soviets struck a deal with Walter, a secret CIA agent, that if they managed to get Anatoly back, they would release a captured American spy. Their initial attempts at getting Anatoly back by using Svetlana and other family members had failed, and they had finally succeeded by using Florence. As the curtain closes, Florence has left Freddie, been lost by Anatoly, and lost the father she never had, and she realizes, like Anatoly, that love is all that matters ("Anthem – Reprise").


Act 1
  • "Prologue"
  • "The Story of Chess"
  • "Press Conference"
  • "Where I Want to Be"
  • "How Many Women"
  • "Merchandisers"
  • "U.S. vs U.S.S.R."
  • "Chess Hymn"
  • "Chess"
  • "Quartet (A Model of Decorum and Tranquility)"
  • "You Want to Lose Your Only Friend?"
  • "Someone Else's Story"
  • "One Night in Bangkok"
  • "Terrace Duet"
  • "Florence Quits"
  • "Nobody's Side"
  • "Anthem"
Act 2
  • "The Arbiter"
  • "Hungarian Folk Song"
  • "Heaven Help My Heart"
  • "No Contest"
  • "You and I"
  • "A Whole New Board Game"
  • "Let's Work Together"
  • "I Know Him So Well"
  • "Pity the Child"
  • "Lullaby" (Apukád erős kezén)
  • "Endgame"
  • "You and I (Reprise)"
  • "Anthem (Reprise)"

Song appears on album, but was deleted from production and is not found in the script licenced for production.
Song featured in the Broadway production, but was unrecorded for the cast album.

Original cast

  • Freddie – Philip Casnoff
  • Florence – Judy Kuhn
  • Anatoly – David Carroll
  • Molokov – Harry Goz
  • Walter – Dennis Parlato
  • Arbiter – Paul Harman
  • Svetlana – Marcia Mitzman
  • Gregor Vassy – Neal Ben-Ari
  • Young Florence – Gina Gallagher
  • Nikolai – Kurt Jones
  • Joe, Harold (Embassy officials) – Richard Muenz, Eric Johnson
  • Ben – Kip Niven

Other staged productions, concerts, and recordings

Miscellaneous performances (1989–1990)

A few months after the show closed on Broadway, in January 1989, the concert version was performed in Carnegie Hall by the original cast in a sold-out benefit performance. In September of that year, Judy Kuhn joined forces with two main principals from the West End production (Körberg and Head) in Skellefteå, Sweden, where they performed in two concert presentations of the musical during finals of the 1989 chess World Cup tournament.

Chess was now a mixed success, combining the popularity of a smash hit album and the problems of a critically derided script — in other words, fertile ground for those seeking to "get it right," even though historical conditions and the fall of the Soviet Union severely compromised the timeliness of the story. The first major attempt at a revival was the American tour, which ran from January to July 1990. This tour, which starred Carolee Carmello, John Herrera, and Stephen Bogardus, was staged by Des McAnuff, who was brought in at the eleventh hour when Trevor Nunn declined to be involved. Robert Coe, the playwright who worked with McAnuff on revising the show, restored most of the original song order from the West End version and deleted the new songs written for the Broadway version, but had only four weeks to complete a complex rewrite. (The performing editions in the United States retain Nelson’s book.) The seven-month-long tour was not a major success, but it did garner some positive reviews. A tour in the United Kingdom, starring Rebecca Storm and mostly based on the London production, was a smash. Also in 1990 was the production at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, Illinois, near Chicago. Directed by David H. Bell and starring Susie McMonagle, David Studwell and Kim Strauss, it featured another reworking of the Nelson script. Bell's version has been performed in Sacramento and Atlanta as well.

Chess was, even in 1990, trying to keep itself modern; the ending of the Cold War was noted in all new versions of the show. Once the Soviet Union fell, the modernization attempts died out, and the clock was set back: Tim Rice's 1990 rewrite that played a brief run off Broadway went all the way back to 1972. The Chess mania that had begun in the U.K. more or less died down to a string of occasional productions of the Broadway and West End versions for the next decade.

Sydney, Australia (1990)

Tim Rice was involved in a 1990 production in Sydney, Australia, where Jim Sharman directed a total rewrite done primarily by Rice. It starred Jodie Gillies, David McLeod, and Robbie Krupski, with the action shifted to an international hotel in Bangkok during the chess championships, and was a critical and popular success. A later Australian production opened at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne in 1997, with Barbara Dickson taking the lead role of Florence (not Svetlana, as she had sung on the original studio cast album). Co-stars included Derek Metzger and Daryl Braithwaite.

In July 1990, this completely new version of Chess premièred in Sydney, Australia, performed at the MLC Centre's Theatre Royal. This version was spearheaded by Tim Rice, who brought in parts from each of the previous versions, as well as what had been his original conception for the Broadway version. The production was directed by Jim Sharman. No cast recording was made of this version.

The Sydney version further streamlined the plot, having both acts take place at a single chess match in a single city (Bangkok). This version takes place in the late 1980s. Florence's nationality was changed from Hungarian to Czech, which changed the year that the Soviets overran her country from 1956 to 1968 (with an accompanying change in the lyrics of "Nobody's Side" from "Budapest is falling" to "Prague and Mr. Dubček"). As in the London version, in this version Anatoly defects from the Soviet Union, wins the match, then decides to return to the Soviet Union at the end, leading to the possibility that Florence's father, if he is still alive, will be released from prison.

Many of the numbers were lengthened considerably from London, with an extended "One Night in Bangkok" near the top of the show. "Heaven Help My Heart" ended the first act, with "Anthem" and "Someone Else's Story" (sung by Svetlana with new lyrics) in the second. "The Soviet Machine" and "The Deal" were also extended considerably.


  • Freddie – David McLeod
  • Florence – Jodie Gillies
  • Anatoly – Robbie Krupski
  • Molokov – John Wood
  • Walter – David Whitney
  • The Arbiter – Laurence Clifford
  • Svetlana – Maria Mercedes


Act 1
  • “The Story of Chess” — Ensemble
  • “Introductions” — All
  • “One Night in Bangkok” — Freddie and Anatoly
  • “Tournament Song” — Ensemble
  • “The Arbiter’s Song” — The Arbiter and Ensemble
  • “U.S. vs. U.S.S.R.” — Molokov, Anatoly, and Ensemble
  • “The Merchandisers' Song” — Ensemble
  • “Quartet (A Model of Decorum and Tranquility)” — Molokov, Florence, The Arbiter and Anatoly
  • “Tournament Song (Reprise)” — Ensemble
  • “Argument” / “Nobody's Side” — Florence and Freddie / Florence and Ensemble
  • “Where I Want to Be” — Anatoly
  • “Cocktail Chorus” — The Arbiter and Ensemble
  • “Terrace Duet” — Florence and Anatoly
  • “No Contest” — Freddie and Anatoly
  • “Florence Quits” — Florence and Freddie
  • “Heaven Help My Heart” / “One Night in Bangkok (Reprise)” — Florence, Anatoly and Freddie / Ensemble
Act 2
  • “Prelude” — Ensemble
  • “Embassy Lament” — Civil Servants
  • “You and I” — Anatoly and Svetlana
  • “Anthem” — Anatoly and Ensemble
  • “Someone Else's Story” / “You and I (Reprise)” — Svetlana / Anatoly and Florence
  • “Attempted Reconciliation” — Florence and Freddie
  • “Pity the Child” — Freddie
  • “The Soviet Machine” — Molokov and Ensemble
  • “The Deal #1” — The Arbiter, Molokov, Walter, Svetlana, Florence
  • “Let’s Work Together”— Walter and Anatoly
  • “The Deal #2” — Molokov, Florence, Walter, Freddie, Anatoly and The Arbiter
  • “I Know Him So Well” — Florence and Svetlana
  • “Endgame / Departure” — Ensemble, Molokov, Freddie, Florence, Anatoly and Svetlana
  • “You and I: Finale” — Florence, Anatoly and Ensemble

Chess in Concert: Gothenburg, Sweden (1994)

This is an audio recording of a concert performance (not a full stage production) at Eriksbergshallen in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1994. The songs and lyrics are largely identical to the original album, with the addition of "Someone Else's Story" from the Broadway version and "The Soviet Machine" from the West End version. Notable principal cast members included Anders Glenmark as Freddie, Karin Glenmark as Florence and Tommy Körberg as Anatoly.

Miscellaneous performances (1995–1996)

In 1995, the Los Angeles production of Chess at Hollywood's Hudson Theater starring Marcia Mitzman (who played Svetlana in the original Broadway production) as Florence and Sean Smith as Anatoly received critical praise. For their performances both Mitzman and Smith won an Ovation Award and a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award.

Chess was once again revived in the U.K. for a nationwide tour in 1996. The cast included Jacqui Scott, and Tim Rice was involved in some re-ordering of the piece. Notably having the show's finale as the song "Nobody's Side".

Danish tour and Complete Cast Album (2001)

In late 2001, an English-language Danish tour was created starring a largely British cast, directed by Craig Revel Horwood. A two-CD album of the tour was released, entitled Chess: Complete Cast Album, becoming the first recording to feature the complete songs of the West End version of the musical (with the addition of the Broadway version's "Someone Else's Story," given to Svetlana in Act 2). The tour also followed the West End version of the musical in plot as well as score (minus small portions of underscoring); however, this was pulled from circulation, to be replaced with a much shorter, trimmed-down version closer to the original concept album. Zubin Varla played Freddie, Stig Rossen played Anatoly, Emma Kershaw played Florence, and Michael Cormick played The Arbiter.

Stockholm, Sweden (2002)

Chess På Svenska - DVD Cover

In late 2001, rumours began to circulate about a new production in Stockholm. Written entirely in Swedish, with lyrics and book by Björn Ulvaeus, Lars Rudolffson, and Jan Mark, it attempted to streamline the story back to its original form and eliminate the aspects of political potboiler that had come to define the show. Featuring new musical numbers (Svetlana's "Han är en man, han är ett barn" ("He is a man, he is a child") and Molokov's "Glöm mig om du kan" ("Forget me if you can" from the demo song "When The Waves Roll Out to Sea") and focusing on material from the concept album, the Stockholm version was a drastic rewrite. Notable cast members included Helen Sjöholm as Florence, Tommy Körberg as Anatolij and Anders Ekborg as Freddie. It was filmed for Swedish television, and has been released on a Swedish-language DVD.

The Stockholm production was nominated for eight national Swedish Theatre Awards Guldmasken and won six of them, including Best Leading Actress in a Musical (Helen Sjöholm), Best Leading Actor in a Musical (Tommy Körberg), and Best Stage Design (Robin Wagner). The Original Swedish Cast CD "Chess På Svenska" peaked at number 2 on the Swedish album chart.


  • Florence Vaszi – Helen Sjöholm
  • Anatolij Sergievskij – Tommy Körberg
  • Freddie Trumper – Anders Ekborg
  • Svetlana Sergievskaja – Josefin Nilsson
  • Domaren (The Arbiter) – Rolf Skoglund
  • Molokov – Per Myrberg

Actors Fund of America Benefit Concert, U.S. (2003)

Presented on September 22, 2003 in the New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway. It was produced without set or costume changes, and with the orchestra onstage. The show was a combination of both the Broadway and London versions, mostly following the London version with regard to music but the Broadway version in terms of the plot, though the Broadway subplot with Florence's father is absent; also, Act 1 takes place in Merano and Act 2 takes place in Bangkok, like in the London version. The show, which was recorded, was directed by Peter Flynn, choreographed by Christopher Gattelli and musical directed by conductor Seth Rudetsky. Notable cast members included Josh Groban as Anatoly, Julia Murney as Florence, Adam Pascal as Freddie, Raúl Esparza as The Arbiter, Sutton Foster as Svetlana and Norm Lewis as Molokov.[11]

Multimedia concert, Los Angeles, U.S. (2007)

Presented September 17, 2007 at the Ford Amphitheatre, Los Angeles, California. Mixture of London and Broadway versions. The cast included Susan Egan (as Svetlana), Kevin Earley (as Anatoly), Ty Taylor (as Freddie), Cindy Robinson (as Florence), Thomas Griffith[disambiguation needed ] (as Molokov), Tom Schmidt (as Walter) and Matthew Morrison (as The Arbiter), with the ensemble, choir and 27 piece orchestra on stage. The concert was directed by Brian Michael Purcell, choreographed by A. C. Ciulla, with musical direction by Dan Redfeld. A portion of the proceeds went to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.[12]

Chess in Concert: Royal Albert Hall, U.K. (2008)

On the 12 and 13 May 2008, Warner Bros. Records produced a concert version of Chess together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, involving two performances at the Royal Albert Hall. This version, comprising almost no dialogue or set, but otherwise following the West End version in plot and music, was recorded for release as a 2-CD cast album and DVD. It was also broadcast on American PBS channels in June 2009.[13] Tim Rice stated in the concert's programme that this version of Chess is the "official version," after years of different plot and song combinations. Though the plot and score is entirely based on that of the West End production, this version also adds in two Broadways songs: "Prologue" and "Someone Else's Story."

The audio recording contains most of the material from the concert except a few lines of dialogue (present on the DVD); it also mislabels and misorders a few songs, such as "Florence and Molokov" for "The American and Florence." The DVD also includes an opening speech given by Tim Rice introducing the cast, which is omitted from the CD.


Song List

Act 1
  • “Prologue” — Instrumental
  • “The Story of Chess” — The Arbiter and Ensemble
  • “Merano” / “What a Scene! What a Joy!” / “Merano (Reprise)” — Mayor, Ensemble, Chorus, Freddie, and Florence
  • “Commie Newspapers” — Freddie and Florence
  • “Press Conference” — Freddie, Florence, and Reporters
  • “Molokov and Anatoly” — Molokov and Anatoly
  • “Where I Want to Be” — Anatoly and Ensemble
  • “Difficult and Dangerous Times” — Florence, Molokov, Walter, and Ensemble
  • “The Arbiter” — The Arbiter and Chorus
  • “Hymn to Chess” — Ensemble and Chorus
  • “The Merchandisers” — Ensemble and Chorus
  • “Global TV Fanfare” — Instrumental
  • “Chess Game #1” — Instrumental
  • “The Arbiter (Reprise)” — The Arbiter and Chorus
  • “Quartet (A Model of Decorum and Tranquility)” — Molokov, Florence, The Arbiter, and Anatoly
  • “Florence and Molokov” (mistakenly named) — Florence and Freddie
  • “1956 – Budapest is Rising” — Ensemble, Freddie and Florence
  • “Nobody's Side” — Florence and Ensemble
  • “Mountain Duet” — Florence, Anatoly, and Freddie
  • “Chess Game #2” — Instrumental
  • “Florence Quits” — Freddie and Florence
  • “Pity the Child #1” — Freddie
  • “Embassy Lament” — Civil Servants
  • “Heaven Help My Heart” — Florence
  • “Anatoly and the Press” — Anatoly and Reporters
  • “Anthem” — Anatoly, Ensemble, and Chorus
Act 2
  • “Golden Bangkok” — Instrumental
  • “One Night in Bangkok” — Freddie and Ensemble
  • “One More Opponent” — Anatoly and Florence
  • “You and I” — Anatoly and Florence
  • “The Soviet Machine” — Molokov and Ensemble
  • “The Interview” — Walter, Freddie, and Anatoly
  • “Someone Else's Story” — Svetlana
  • “The Deal” — The Arbiter, Molokov, Svetlana, Walter, Florence, Freddie, Anatoly, and Ensemble
  • “Pity the Child #2” — Freddie
  • I Know Him So Well” — Florence and Svetlana
  • “Talking Chess” — Anatoly and Freddie
  • “Endgame #1” — Chorus
  • “Endgame #2” — Molokov, Freddie, Florence, and Ensemble
  • “Endgame #3” — Anatoly, Svetlana, Florence, and Ensemble
  • “You and I (Reprise)” — Florence and Anatoly
  • “Walter and Florence” — Walter and Florence
  • “Anthem (Reprise)” — Florence, Anatoly, and Company

Budapest, Hungary (2010)

The third Hungarian production of Chess opened on 7 and 8 August 2010, in the open-air theatre of Margaret Island, Budapest, by the crew of the famous Hungarian premiere of Dance of the Vampires. The cast includes Géza Egyházi as Anatoly, Éva Sári as Florence, János Szemenyei as Freddie and Tímea Kecskés as Svetlana. This concert production closely follows the script of the Royal Albert Hall production of 2008 (though the songs "Hymn of Chess," "The Merchandisers," "The Arbiter (Reprise)," and "Talking Chess" were cut). After two performances on August 7 and 8, the production moved into an indoors theatre, the Magyar Színház, in October. It was produced by PS Produkció and directed by Cornelius Baltus. The Hungarian lyrics were written by Ágnes Romhányi, the choreographer was Karen Bruce, and the stage and costume design were created by Kentaur.[14]

Arlington, Virginia, U.S (2010)

The first major American revival of Chess since 1993 opened at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia(a suburb of Washington, D.C.) on August 8, 2010 and ran until October 3, 2010.[15] The musical followed the story of the original Broadway version of the show, though it streamlined the book and reordered some of the songs. This production was produced by The Signature Theater Group and directed by Eric Schaeffer.[16] The cast included Jeremy Kushnier as Freddie, Euan Morton as Anatoly, and Jill Paice as Florence.

U.K. tour (2010–2011)

A production directed by Craig Revel Horwood had a 10 month run around the U.K. and Ireland. It was an actor-musician production, with 25 out of the 30 cast members playing instruments. The cast included Daniel Koek as the Russian, James Fox as the American, Shona White as Florence Vassey, Poppy Tierney as Svetlana, Steve Varnom as Molokov, James Graeme as Walter and David Erik as The Arbiter.

Changes to the songs include the removal of "Merano" and "Walter and Florence". The tour started with previews on 27 August in Newcastle, then continues on to Northampton, Edinburgh, Cheltenham, Aberdeen, Wolverhampton, Sheffield, Salford, Cardiff, Bradford, Southampton, Nottingham, Norwich, Plymouth, Dublin, Glasgow and ended at Politeama Rossetti, in Trieste, Italy. The creative team included Tony Award winning orchestrator Sarah Travis and set designer Christopher Woods.

On 8 February 2011, Mirvish Productions announced a Toronto run of the U.K. touring production arriving in September 2011. The Toronto run follows the end of the U.K. tour.

Aberystwyth, U.K. (2011)

A production of Chess, directed and choreographed by Anthony Williams, was produced by the Aberystwyth Arts Centre in the summer of 2011. The creative team for the production included musical director Michael Morwood, set designer Alison Allen, and sound designer Martyn J Hunt. The cast included Tom Solomon as Anatoly Sergievsky, Tim Rogers as Freddie Trumper, Julie Stark as Florence Vassey, Lori Haley Fox as Svetlana, James Dinsmore as Molokov, Stephen McCarthy as Walter and Leighton Rafferty as The Arbiter. It played from 21 July to 27 August, 2011.

Bielefeld, Germany (2011-2012)

A German version of Chess (with the songs performed in English) was produced by the Theater Bielefeld (Municipal Theatre Bielefeld) in Bielefeld, Germany for their 2011/2012 season[17]. The production was directed by Kay Kuntze and choreographed by Götz Hellriegel. It opened on September 25, 2011 and is planned to run until April 21, 2012. The creative team included musical director William Ward Murta and set and costume designer Duncan Hayler. The cast included Alex Melcher as Frederick Trumper, Veit Schäfermeier as Anatoly Sergievsky, Roberta Valentini as Florence Vassy, Karin Seyfried as Svetlana Sergievsky, Jens Janke as The Arbiter, Frank Bahrenberg as Alexander Molokov and Michael Pflumm as Walter de Courcey.

Main characters

Character Voice Type Description
Frederick "Freddie" Trumper Tenor "The American": The United States' champion—a self-absorbed, fame-and-fortune-seeking, short-tempered, Russophobic bad boy. As the show goes on he matures and realises his position can help Florence and Anatoly.
Anatoly Sergievsky Baritone/Tenor "The Russian": The Soviet Union's champion—a troubled father and husband who despises the propaganda and politics of the tournament, eventually deciding to defect from his homeland, even at the cost of deserting his family.
Florence Vassy Mezzo-Soprano or Belter Freddie's strong-willed Hungarian-born English second, who was separated in Budapest from her presumably captured father during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, having now no further knowledge of his whereabouts. She feels strained by Freddie's brashness and develops a sexually-tinged fascination for Anatoly, eventually becoming his mistress.
The Arbiter Tenor The coldly objective, no-nonsense referee of the championship tournament.
Molokov Bass or Bass-Baritone Anatoly's second who is also, in fact, a manipulative KGB agent. In the West End version his first name is mentioned as Alexander; in the Broadway and Sydney versions, it is Ivan.
Walter de Courcey Bass-Baritone A media personality of the tournament and a secret CIA agent. His surname is sometimes spelled "de Courcy."
Svetlana Sergievsky Mezzo-Soprano or Belter Anatoly's estranged wife who is manipulated by Molokov to persuade Anatoly to return to his homeland. Although upset at Anatoly's betrayal, she also understands that Florence has given Anatoly something she cannot herself. In Russian, her surname is stylized as the feminine "Sergievskaya."

Differences among the major versions

Version Notable plot points/variations Notable song additions/omissions Commercial recordings Other notes
Original concept (1984) Act 1 is set in Merano, Italy; Act 2 in Bangkok, Thailand. Lacks a fully articulated plot. Chess (1984), the original concept album or recording; Chess Pieces (1986), the original album's Swedish "best of" compilation; Chess: The Concert Tour (1984); and Chess in Concert (1996), the Gothenburg concert cast recording. Only version to include the song "Argument" with that title and as between Florence and Anatoly. The characters known as Freddie and Anatoly in all later versions here known only as The American and The Russian, respectively. The character of Walter, present in all later versions, not yet conceived.
West End production (1986–1989) Each act presents a separate chess tournament with Act 2 occurring a year after Act 1. Act 1 is set in Merano, Italy; Act 2 in Bangkok, Thailand. During Act 1, Freddie is the champion challenged by Anatoly. Anatoly wins in Act 1. During Act 2, Anatoly is the champion challenged by Viigand, the new Soviet grandmaster after Anatoly's defection. Anatoly wins again in Act 2. Addition of "Commie Newspapers," "Press Conference," "Florence and Molokov," "Der Kleiner Franz," "Chess #2," "Anatoly and the Press," "One More Opponent," "The Soviet Machine," "The Interview," and "Talking Chess," all absent from the original album. Division of the original album's "Opening Ceremony" into several individual songs: "Dangerous and Difficult Times," "The Arbiter," "Hymn to Chess," "The Merchandisers," and "The Arbiter (Reprise)." Chess: Complete Cast Album (2001), the Danish tour recording; Chess in Concert (2009), a live recording of the Royal Albert Hall concerts (both an audio CD and a DVD of the performances); and Highlights from Chess in Concert (2009), the Royal Albert's corresponding "best of" compilation. Only major version to include the character Viigand and the songs "Commie Newspapers," "Der Kleiner Franz," "Anatoly and the Press," and "The Interview." Various songs arranged in the plot differently than on the original album. Minor lyrical alterations and song extensions or reductions throughout, compared to the original album. Renaming of the original album's "The Russian and Molokov" to "Anatoly and Molokov" and "The American and Florence" to "1956 – Budapest is Rising." Molokov's first name mentioned as Alexander.
Broadway production (1988) Both acts present the same chess tournament with Act 1 showing the first half of the tournament and Act 2 the last half. Anatoly is the champion challenged by Freddie. Freddie wins in Act 2. The prologue is set in Budapest, Hungary during the 1956 uprising; Act 1 in Bangkok, Thailand; and Act 2 in Budapest again. Includes a sub-plot in which Walter introduces Florence to a man deceitfully claimed to be her long-lost father. Addition of "Someone Else's Story," "Hungarian Folk Song," "A Whole New Board Game," "Let's Work Together," and "Lullaby." Omission of the West End's "Merano" sequence, "Commie Newspapers," "Embassy Lament," "The Soviet Machine," "The Interview" sequence, and "Talking Chess." The West End songs "1956 – Budapest is Rising," "Mountain Duet," and "The Deal (No Deal)" are somewhat altered musically and lyrically, and renamed "You Want to Lose Your Only Friend?," "Terrace Duet," and "No Contest," respectively. The original album's "Argument," during Act 2 with Florence and Anatoly, is altered and renamed "How Many Women," now during Act 1 with Florence and Freddie. Chess: Original Broadway Cast Recording (1988); also the direct inspiration for a karaoke CD by Pocket Songs. Only major version to include "Hungarian Folk Song," "A Whole New Board Game" and "Lullaby." Major lyrical alterations and different song orderings in the plot than the West End production. "Chess Hymn" appears on the recorded album for this version, but was deleted from production and is not found in the licenced script. Molokov's first name is Ivan. Florence's father is mentioned by name (Gregor Vassy). Omission of the character Viigand.
Sydney production (1990–1991) Both acts present the same chess tournament in one single setting: Bangkok, Thailand. Many new plot points; most of the beginning occurs at a Bangkok hotel and immediately contrasts the romantic couples Freddie and Florence with Anatoly and Svetlana (the latter never appearing so early on in other versions). Otherwise, the major storyline is similar to the original West End production, though with Freddie playing against Anatoly throughout. In Act 2, Anatoly wins. Addition of "Cocktail Chorus," "Tournament Song," and "Attempted Reconciliation." Omission of "Chess." Many songs lengthened considerably from past versions, including West End's "The Soviet Machine" and "The Deal," as well as "One Night in Bangkok" (sung by both Freddie and Anatoly), placed near the top of the show and reprised briefly as an Act 2 finale after "Heaven Help My Heart." "Anthem" and "Someone Else's Story" (sung by Svetlana with new lyrics) placed in Act 2. Reintroduction of West End's "Embassy Lament" and inclusion of Broadway's "Terrace Duet," "No Contest," and "Let's Work Together." Original album's "The American and Florence" renamed "Argument" (not related in any way to the song "Argument" from the original album). None Only major version to include "Cocktail Chorus," "Tournament Song," and "Attempted Reconciliation." Florence's nationality is changed from Hungarian to Czech, which changes the year that the Soviets overran her country from 1956 to 1968, leading to an alteration in the lyrics of the song "1956 – Budapest is Rising." Omission of Viigand. Molokov's first name is Ivan.


  1. ^ Harold C. Schonberg (1998-05-08). "Does Anyone Make a Bad Move In 'Chess'?". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-27.  "Bernie Jacobs, the grand Rhadamanthus of the Shubert Organization, one of the presenters of the musical, says that Bobby originally was the model for the American player but that in the course of events his image got a little diluted."
  2. ^ "Keene on Chess: Viktor Korchnoi", Ray Keene, Chessvile
  3. ^ "BBC - Radio 2 - Elaine Paige". 
  4. ^ CHESS seeks to shed its checkered past, Stephen Holden, The New York Times, 24 April 1988
  5. ^ How to spend £4 million in one night, Tim Rice, The Sunday Times, 11 May 1986
  6. ^ a b "Bright Lights Dark Shadows: The Real Story of ABBA," Carl Magnus Palm, p. 471
  7. ^ William Hartston (with Tim Rice), Chess The Making of The Musical, Pavillion Books, 1986
  8. ^ May 9, 1985
  9. ^ "Auditions for CHESS at Queen City Theatre Company". North Carolina Theatre Conference. Retrieved 9/19/2011. 
  10. ^ The full story is in the San Francisco Chronicle, July 22, 2001 edition.
  11. ^ Gans, Andrew."Heaven Help Her Heart: Julia Murney Heads Cast of All-Star Chess Concert Sept. 22", September 22, 2003
  12. ^ Gans, Andrew."One Night in Hollywood: Chess Benefit Presented Sept. 17", September 17, 2007
  13. ^ Royal Albert Hall — Chess in Concert from the Chess in Concert official website. Retrieved 2008-12-29.
  14. ^ "Sakk, Chess" (in Hungarian). PS Produkció. Retrieved 2010-08-11. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ "2010-2011 Season". 
  17. ^ Theater Bielefeld: Chess - Das Musical

External links

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