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 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.”
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.
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 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 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.