CHESS press night at The London Coliseum

CHESS is officially up and running again in London’s West End. The Benny Andersson, Tim Rice and Björn Ulvaeus musical has finished its previews at the home of the English National Opera and last night launched to the press. We had a chance to chat with some of the cast and creatives about their involvement in this epic revival.

Benny Andersson and Tim Rice
Benny Andersson and Tim Rice

Benny told us: “This is how Björn and I have always envisioned CHESS. A large and wonderful orchestra, a powerful choir and a great rock band form the backbone of the score. Then add in some great voices and performances from the principals, like we have here, and well, I will definitely be coming back to see it again.”

Sir Tim said that he was delighted by the ENO’s treatment of the show that was last in the West End over thirty years ago. “I think this production is magnificent. Truly spectacular and so well crafted and staged. It sounds glorious.”

Cassidy Janson plays Florence Vassy
Cassidy Janson plays Florence Vassy

Florence, the role first played by Elaine Paige, who was among the audience last night, is played by Cassidy Janson (who played Carole King in the West End version of Beautiful). She brings her character’s journey of passion and pain alive to great tear-jerking effect.

She told icethesite that she was loving every moment of performing in CHESS and that to be at The London Coliseum was a dream come true. “I already don’t want it to end,” she said.

Michael Ball has long sung the show stopping Anthem in his concert tours and has always wanted to perform the role of Anatoly. He said he is relishing this opportunity to sing with the 60 piece orchestra of the ENO…”and who wouldn’t?!” he said.

Cedric Neal is The Arbiter, keeping a masterful eye on proceedings at the World Chess Championships, and bringing a rich vocal twist to his numbers, squeezing in a few intricate runs here and there.

Alexandra Burke with Cedric Neal
Alexandra Burke with Cedric Neal

The role of Anatoly’s wife, Svetlana Sergievsky’s has been expanded from the London production of the 1980s and is performed superbly at The Coliseum by Alexandra Burke.

The part now includes a song new to London, imported from Chess på Svenska (the hit Swedish CHESS production). He Is A Man, He Is A Child helps establish Svetlana’s character and the emotional journey she finds herself on as Act Two begins.

Alexandra told us: “I’ll be honest, I didn’t know CHESS, the score or the show before the part came along. I agreed to the role when I learned of the credentials of the team behind this production, the fact it is the ENO, that it is here at The Coliseum and that Tim Rice, and Benny and Björn from ABBA had written the music.

Then when I knew who my fellow cast members were going to be and we started rehearsing this amazing music with the incredible orchestra, I absolutely knew I had made the right decision.”

Tim Howar at last night's CHESS press night
Tim Howar at last night’s CHESS press night

Tim Howar plays Frederick Trumper, the troubled American chess player who vies for the world title with Anatoly in Act One. He is particularly sensational during Pity The Child, often dubbed ‘Pity The Singer’ due to its emotional complexity and wide musical range.

However, Tim said he was originally tried out for the role of The Arbiter. “When Benny and Björn saw the videos of my Arbiter performance, they suggested instead that the production had found its Freddie Trumper. “We need a rock guy,” they said.

“I am a huge CHESS fan and have been for years, even performing the show in an amateur dramatics society years ago back in Canada. At first I just wanted to be a part, any part of this London show if I could, but when I landed the role of the American, I knew that I could bring memories of certain episodes from my own past family history to the role and at the same time have a blast every night.”

Tim with Jodie and baby Hamish
Tim with wife Jodie and baby Hamish

Tim hit the headlines when he had to leave at the end of the first act of the first preview of CHESS last Thursday.

On hearing that his wife Jodie Oliver-Howar had gone into labour, he rushed to be by her side. Their son Hamish might have stolen his dad away from CHESS at the first preview but incredibly at just four days old, he was there to add his support on press night!

The entire creative team, from set and lighting designers, the phenomenal orchestra under the baton of John Rigby, the chorus and all the principals (special mention too for Philip Browne’s menacing Molokov) have breathed new life into CHESS.

In this guise, the story appears much clearer without obvious signposting and each number is given a fresh, thoughtful musical and theatrical treatment.

Benny, Tim and Björn each loved it and that really is high praise!

CHESS runs until 2 June. Get tickets.

2018 proving popular for major CHESS productions

This year sees a host of new professional productions of the Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice musical CHESS on both sides of the Atlantic.

Ramin Karimloo and Ensemble in Chess. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Washington D.C.

In February, the Tony Award winning producer, Michael Meyer, presented a new semi-staged concert version of CHESS at the Kennedy Centre in Washington D.C., to open the theatre’s ‘Broadway Center Stage’ season of short-run shows.

The five night only production which featured a revised book by Emmy Award winning writer, Danny Strong and a re-ordering of the musical’s songs, was staged with the full support of Benny, Björn and Tim Rice.

“We have all been behind this production from the outset,” Benny told us. “Björn, Tim and my son Ludvig went over to meet with the producers last year and I met the musical director in London,” he said.

The all-star cast including, Ramin Karimloo (Anatoly), Raul Esparza (Freddie), Ruthie Ann Miles (Svetlana) and Karen Olivo (Florence), were backed by a stellar team of decorated choreographers, lighting, sound, costume and set designers.

Simply staged, the cast sat on chairs for a large part of the performance, while the 19 strong Opera House Orchestra played behind them, elevated on platforms of scaffolding adorned with oversized Chess pieces. The set consisted mainly of two giant projection screens showing period news clips from the Carter/Reagan Cold War era.

However, despite unanimous praise for CHESS’ musical score along with the cast’s vocal performances and Danny Strong’s new book being described as sharp and funny, the reviews from the press have been somewhat mixed. With a running time of 2 hours 50 minutes the show was generally considered to be too long and the story has been criticised as contrived and convoluted. On the other hand, “Come for the sublime Broadway performances. Stay for the fresh book and the rock ’n roll.” said another.

According to Benny, their initial aim had been to take the show back to Broadway, however the final decision as to whether it will go further has yet to be made.

“It is still very much on the cards,” he said. “But we shall see…”

The Danish touring production has been very well received by fans and critics alike
The Danish touring production has been very well received by fans and critics alike

Danish tour

Running from mid-January until the end of March, this first professional Danish language version of CHESS is scheduled to play at 5 venues across Denmark:

19 January – 17 February : Tivoli Concert Hall, Copenhagen
20 February – 3 March : Musikhuset, Aarhus
6 March – 10 March : Odeon
13 March – 17 March : Musikteater, Vejle
21 March – 24 March : Musikteatret, Holstebro

The touring company, directed by Mark Clements, stars Stig Rossen as the Russian, Anatoly Sergievski, Bjarne Langhoff as the American, Freddie Trumper, Pernille Peterson in the role of Svetlana and Xenia Lach-Nielsen as Florence, while Jakob Zethner plays Molokov and Kristian Vetter, The Arbiter.

The cast are backed by an orchestra consisting of just seventeen musicians with music specifically re-arranged for their small number by Anders Eljas.

The tour has received a host of five star reviews from the Danish press and although neither Benny nor Björn have had any involvement with or yet seen the production, their personal representative, Görel Hanser, did travel to Copenhagen to watch a performance and has given the show her approval.

A collection of images and video footage from the production along with all the performance details and ticket information can be found on the tour’s official website.

Limited to five weeks, CHESS will be staged in London by the English National Opera

London

On 26 April the English National Opera (ENO) will present the first West End production of CHESS for over thirty years at The London Coliseum.

The ENO’s award winning orchestra and chorus will be joined by Michael Ball as Anatoly, Alexandra Burke as Svetlana, Tim Howar as Freddie and Cassidy Janson as Florence.

Murray Head, who played Freddie Trumper in the original London production and scored an international hit in 1984 with the single, One Night In Bangkok, from the CHESS concept album, returns to the musical in the role of The Arbiter.

Benny has told us that although the precise format of the ENO production has not yet been agreed, it will be predominantly based on the Swedish concert version with a little from the 1986 London production added in.

“Maybe there will be costumes and some sets,” he said, “I’m not entirely sure, but probably not a full staging,” he concluded.

All the musical arrangements and orchestration, which Benny hopes will include the song He’s A Man, He’s A Child, written for Chess på Svenska in 2002 and therefore not previously performed in the West End, is being undertaken by Anders Eljas.

Tickets for the production, which will run for a limited five week period until 2 June 2018, are available now on the ENO’s official website.

Helsinki’s Svenska Teatern is staging CHESS this Autumn.

Helsinki

Following the enormous success of their previously staged Benny and Björn musicals, Kristina från Duvemåla and Mamma Mia!, Svenska Teatern are, this Autumn, launching a production of Chess på Svenska.

The show will feature both a newly edited script from Lars Rudolfsson and fresh orchestrations by Anders Eljas.

Although the full cast has not yet been announced, we do know that it will be produced by Maria Sid and star Maria Ylipää as Florence with Alexander Lycke in the role of Anatoly.

Benny has confirmed that he will be actively involved with the production which premieres in Helsinki on 8 September. Tickets for performances up to 31 January 2019 are currently available via Svenska Teatern’s official website.

Future productions?

With all the current interest in CHESS, we asked Benny if there was more to come?
“The corpse is moving!” he joked.

There’s more…

Benny plays a section from CHESS

A little fun clip of Benny Andersson at the piano, filmed earlier this year in Stockholm. I don’t know about you but I didn’t want him to stop!

Der Kleine Franz is included as a bonus track on the fully remastered CHESS Deluxe Edition which was released in 2014.

Enjoy!

Source: Der Kleine Franz/Mountain Duet on Vimeo.

He’s A Man, He’s A Child/Han är en man, han är ett barn

The fantastic song Han är en man, han är ett barn, written for CHESS (på Svenska) the Swedish production of CHESS, is to be released soon in its English form He’s A Man, He’s A Child.

The song in Swedish is available on the album and DVD of CHESS (på Svenska) performed by Josefin Nilsson.

He’s A Man, He’s A Child (Andersson/Ulvaeus) is from CHESS In Concert (Benny Andersson, Tim Rice, Björn Ulvaeus) and performed by Reidun Sæther with the Arctic Philharmonic, orchestrated and conducted by Anders Eljas.

Reidun Sæther

The track will be available to download from places such as iTunes and Spotify soon.

Here is a preview:

CHESS in Concert to tour arenas in Sweden

The tour kicks off on 10 April 2015
The tour kicks off on 10 April 2015

A concert version of the musical CHESS written by Benny Andersson, Tim Rice and Björn Ulvaeus will be taken on a major arena tour of Sweden next year.

The tour kicks off on 10 April at Globen in Stockholm, and then moves on to Karlstad, Gothenburg, Helsingborg, Malmö, Västerås, Växjö and Linköping.

The original CHESS conductor and arranger Anders Eljas will once again lead the cast, ensemble, choir and orchestra.

Anders said: “Chess is a work that has meant so much to me, it will always be close to my heart. Every time we meet, Björn, Benny and I, we can always find something that requires a new twist, a new interpretation, a new tone. Everything can always be a little better.”

Gunilla Backman will play the part of Florence, Philip Jalmelid is to play The Russian, Svetlana is to be played by Sarah Dawn Finer, Anders Glenmark will perform The American, and Molokov is to be played by Johan Schinkler.

The music is performed by the Stockholm Concert Orchestra supported by the Stockholms Musikgymnasiums Kammarkör.

Most of the 2015 concert cast are made up of the Dalhalla CHESS in Concert cast, with the exception of Anders Glenmark who plays The American this time around instead of Anders Ekborg. Anders Glenmark is of course, no stranger to CHESS having played The American in the concerts of the 1990s as well as featuring on the Original Concept Album.

Tickets go on sale tomorrow (Friday 5 December 2014).

Tour dates:

  • 10 April – Stockholm, Globen at 19:30
  • 11 April – Karlstad, Löfbergs Arena at 19:30
  • 17 April – Göteborg, Scandinavium at 19:30
  • 18 April – Helsingborg, Helsingsborg Arena at 19:30
  • 19 April – Malmö, Malmö Arena at 15:00
  • 24 April – Västerås, ABB Arena at 19:30
  • 25 April – Växjö, Vida Arena at 19:30
  • 26 April – Linköping, Saab Arena at 18:00

Related links:

‘CHESS’ in Dalhalla and the remastered concept album confirmed for November

Last weekend a concert version of Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice’s musical CHESS was staged at Dalhalla, a former quarry in central Sweden, which has been transformed in to a spectacular outdoor arena renowned for its outstanding acoustic qualities.

Although neither Benny or Björn attended the concerts, their personal representative, Görel Hanser and her husband were among the 4000+ capacity audiences.

The principle cast of CHESS in Dalhalla
The principle cast of CHESS in Dalhalla

Marking the 30 year anniversary of the release of the original concept album in 1984, the concerts were sung through in English by a celebrated cast including Anders Ekborg in the role of the American, Gunilla Backman as Florence, Philip Jalmelid as the Russian, Sarah Dawn Finer as Svetlana and Johan Schinkler as Molokov. They were backed by the Stockholm Concert Orchestra and a 50 strong choir from Stockholm’s Music Gymnasium.

Talking before the concerts, Gunilla Backman told icethesite: “It’s fantastic to do CHESS and finally I get to play Florence, which is a dream come true for me,” she said.

Anders Ekborg agreed, “Performing anything of Benny and Björn’s is always pure joy, but none more so then CHESS,” he enthused.

The shows’ conductor Anders Eljas (who co-arranged, orchestrated and conducted the original music for CHESS, directed the London Symphony Orchestra both for the album recording and 1984 European tour and more recently conducted Göteborgs Operan’s 2012 updated production), said he could not express how much CHESS means to him. “This music lives inside of me, it flows right through me,” he explained.

The performances largely followed the original ’84 set combined with a few elements taken from the 2008 Royal Albert Hall concerts. The one notable difference however, and for many the highlight of the show, was the addition of Svetlana’s He Is A Man, He Is A Child. Not included in the original score, Han är en man, han är ett barn, first appeared in Chess på Svenska in 2002 and has never previously been heard in an English language production.

This week, Benny confirmed to icethesite that a remastered version of the original concept album, including several bonus tracks as well as a DVD of the videos and an SVT special, is scheduled for release in November 2014.

Below is a gallery of photos from Dalhalla.

Related links:

CHESS in Concert – 30th anniversary performances announced for July 2014

It is 30 years since CHESS was first released as a concept album in 1984 and to mark the anniversary a special jubilee concert version of the Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice musical will take place on 4 & 5 July 2014.

Chess-600-x-600The concerts will be staged in Dalhallaa 4000 seat amphitheatre near Rättvik in central Sweden, which boasts acoustic qualities comparable to the best outdoor stages in Europe.

An impressive cast has been assembled for the concerts including Gunilla Backman (Florence), Sarah Dawn Finer (Svetlana), Anders Ekborg (The American), Philip Jalmelid (The Russian) and Johan Schinkler (Molokov).

The music will be performed by the Stockholm Concert Orchestra, backed by a 50 strong choir, conducted by Anders Eljas.

Leif Henriksson, C.E.O. of the production company Blixten & Co., is excited at having the opportunity to bring CHESS to one of Sweden’s most beautiful theatres: “I have loved this music ever since I first heard it in 1984,” he said. “It’ll be great fun to stage it at Dalhalla.”

Tickets for the two unique performances will be made available for public release at 10am (C.E.T.) on Monday 24 March 2014. However, if you have purchased tickets from Blixten & Co. before and are a member of their loyalty scheme there is an opportunity to pre-book tickets now.

Related links:

Benny Andersson interview (Part 1)

Benny Andersson, December 2013 in Stockholm talking exclusively to icethesite.
Benny Andersson, December 2013 in Stockholm talking exclusively to icethesite.

Happy Christmas/Season’s greetings to all icethesite visitors. Huge thanks to everyone who visits and supports the site and I hope you will enjoy this opportunity to hear directly from Benny about the year ahead. A year dominated by the film ‘The Circle’ but with a few goodies and potential goodies for music fans too. Enjoy…