Staging CHESS during dangerous and difficult times

Moscow CHESS 2020
CHESS at the MDM Theatre, Moscow opened on 17 October 2020

On 17 October 2020, the curtain lifted on the Benny Andersson, Tim Rice and Björn Ulvaeus musical CHESS at Moscow’s MDM Theatre, home of the Broadway Moscow Theatre Company.

CHESS is the only large-scale musical premiere in Russia this Autumn, after the restrictions on the presentation of theatrical productions there were lifted. However, the threat of theatres being closed down again at any moment is very real and it is extremely unfortunate for the talented team of creatives behind bringing the musical to Russia, where the original concept album was banned in 1984 for featuring ‘anti-Soviet sentiments’.

CHESS in Moscow promotional video on YouTube

Russian theatre goers are also taking on a risk of course by being seated so close to each other in these times of social distancing.

Leaving all these factors aside, the show itself is a spectacular affair and as is customary with most new productions of CHESS features a familiar but unique storyline. This one mostly leans on the original London production with parts of the Swedish production featured alongside a concerted attempt to round out the characters of the Russian delegation, most notably of course Svetlana and Anatoly.

CHESS was presented mostly in striking blue and grey tones

Dmitry Bogachev, producer, CEO of Broadway Moscow Theatre Company told Broadway World: “CHESS, an acknowledged theatrical phenomenon, has anew become relevant these days. Behind the scenes of great victories and bitter defeats in any stand-off there are always real people. Each with a complicated destiny, living out their emotions and acting at the limit of their abilities.

Alexander Sukhanov, Alexander Bobrov, Anastasia Stotskaya and Anna Guchenkova are the actors in the principal roles and along with the rest of the cast received a standing ovation on the opening night (and subsequent nights by all accounts).

The musical director and conductor is John Rigby who also MD’d the English National Opera staging of CHESS at the London Coliseum in 2018.

Anatoly Karpov (Russian chess grandmaster and former World Champion) saw the Moscow staging and said: “It is strange to know that I was a kind of prototype of the main character of this great work. I have seen the musical “CHESS” on many world stages – in America, England, Sweden, France…and now incredibly here for the first time in Russian.

Get Onto My Cloud – the Tim Rice podcast

If you are a CHESS fan, you will be sure to enjoy Sir Tim Rice’s podcast called Get Onto My Cloud. In the podcast, Tim talks about his career in music and has several episodes dedicated solely to CHESS (with more to come). You will get to hear CHESS demos a-plenty, including ‘Every Good Man’ (Heaven Help My Heart) sung by Agnetha Fältskog for an ABBA recording plus a version by Benny, Björn and Tim, ‘Mozart’ (later Embassy Lament) and ‘Cry A Little’ (Who Needs A Dream?).

Thanks to Dimitry Shipov for his help with the Moscow CHESS parts of this article. Photos: Yuriy Bogomaz

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ABBA: Super Troupers The Exhibition

On Friday 6 December ABBA: Super Troupers The Exhibition opened at London’s O2 Arena.

Set to a backdrop of Britain in the 1970s, the exhibition examines ABBA’s rise from Swedish folk artists to global superstardom through a series of atmospheric rooms exploring each of their 8 multi-million selling albums, alongside the band’s personal and public journey.

As you stroll around the creatively displayed exhibits, a specially recorded audio guide and TV screens showing old news reels give context to the developments of the decade, highlighting the global events and musical soundtrack that defined the ABBA era.

Ingmarie Halling and Jude Kelly
Ingmarie Halling and Jude Kelly

The idea for the exhibition was conceptualised by Jude Kelly CBE, former Artistic Director at The Southbank Centre. She says:

“ABBA’s music, image and personal stories not only gripped a generation, but have the transcendental ability to continue to engage millions of fans of all ages across the globe today… I am delighted to be able to take visitors deeper into the incredible legacy that is the ABBA story.”

Produced with the full support of the four ABBA members, in association with Stockholm’s ABBA The Museum, the displays, which fill 14000 square feet of exhibition space, incorporate costumes, instruments, lyrics, album artwork, photography, film and more, some of which have not previously been seen in the U.K. 

Ingmarie Halling, Creative Director and Curator of ABBA The Museum told us:

“Having a space such as this to work with is a curator’s dream, you can do so much. You can allow your imagination to go wild with all the possibilities. The difficulty becomes knowing when to stop as well as finding the balance between displaying the right content for casual ABBA fans right through to ABBA die hards and still give both types reason to visit the original museum in Stockholm.”

The fully immersive experience includes plenty of interactive elements. Guests can test their ABBA knowledge with quizzes, sing along to their favourite tracks in the recording booth, try their hand at the mixing desk or have a dance on the Voulez-Vouz nightclub floor. 

There are also, of course, many photo opportunities throughout the exhibition, such as sitting inside a helicopter cockpit like the one that graced the cover of Arrival or in a reproduction of the interior of Polar Music Studios where many of the band’s hits were recorded.

Before leaving, visitors are given an insight into the popularity and influence ABBA still hold today as they are invited to explore and reminisce at a mock-up of super-fan Andrew Boardman’s living room containing thousands of items of memorabilia. 

ABBA’s Anni-Frid (Frida) Lyngstad says:

“From our Eurovision Song Contest win in Brighton in ’74 to the present day, the UK has long held a special place in ABBA’s heart, and we have always strongly felt the love and support of our British fans. We are delighted to support Jude Kelly towards this major exhibition and can’t wait for fans to discover a host of new surprises!” 

ABBA: Super Troupers The Exhibition is scheduled to run at The O2 (which is also home to the new ABBA-inspired theatrical and dining experience, Mamma Mia! The Party), until 31st August 2020. If successful in London, there are tentative plans for it to go on tour to other cities around the globe.

Tickets are on sale now at: www.abbasupertroupers.com


Benny Anderssons Orkester – The First Eighteen Years

With a brand new tour starting on Thursday, today Benny Anderssons Orkester were busy in rehearsals in Stockholm. We are able to bring you some behind the scenes imagery and a few quotes, as well as a guide to one of Benny’s longest running musical adventures.

22 July 2019: Benny Anderssons Orkester in rehearsals
22 July 2019: Benny Anderssons Orkester in rehearsals

‘Benny Anderssons Orkester’ (BAO for short– English pronunciation ‘bough’) was formed in 2001. In addition to the band leader Benny Andersson (accordion, piano), BAO consists of Kalle Moraeus, Leif Göras, Olle Moraeus and Perra Moraeus (violin, etc. who together make up the respected musical group Orsa Spelmän), Göran Arnberg, harmonium, Janne Bengtson, flute, Per Grebacken, saxophone & clarinet, Jogga Ernlund, double bass, Calle Jakobsson, tuba, Leif Lindvall, trumpet, Lars Rudolfsson, accordion, Jörgen Stenberg, drums & percussion, and Helen Sjöholm and Tommy Körberg on vocals.

Of all the performances I do or have done in my life, BAO is the one that means the most. They are like a family to me.

Tommy Körberg

The format of the live folkparks shows is familiar to discerning Swedish music lovers by now: in the late afternoon, BAO will take to the stage showcasing much of their more folk oriented material, and will then be joined by singers Helen Sjöholm and Tommy Körberg when the material veers off into standards, jazz, classics, boogie-woogies, schlagers, pop and back to folk and now how about some ABBA?!

By the time the short Swedish summer night darkness arrives, some three and a half/four hours after the show started, the dancefloor which is laid in front of the stage has hosted pop music fans alongside jivers and waltzers.

The sheer breadth of material for BAO to draw on after ten of their own albums, plus dips into Benny’s back catalogue (Hep Stars anyone?) mean there is no chance for anyone to get bored.

In addition to the fabulous music emanating from the stage, there will be monologues, maybe the odd bawdy joke, clap alongs, singalongs and of course much dancing!

Of the around 50 songs performed in concert, the vast majority have vocals (“When you have such talented singers as Tommy and Helen it would be silly not to use them as much as possible,” said BAO accordionist and theatre director Lars Rudolfsson).

We live in a bubble when we are on the road and we want it to go on and on!

Jörgen Stenberg

There is no doubting the enthusiasm among the band members for going back out on the road again, three years since their last outing.

Singer, guitar player (and occasional drummer!) Tommy Körberg told us:

“Of all the performances I do or have done in my life BAO is the one that means the most. They are like a family to me. It is truly wonderful to be on stage with them all. I’m champing at the bit to get going!”

Jörgen Stenberg, drums and percussion added:

“The moment we were all back together rehearsing, the years since the last tour melt away and it feels like only yesterday we were last together. We live in a bubble when we are on the road and we want it to go on and on!”

BAO was formed from Benny’s friendship and musical collaborations with the folk group Orsa Spelmän, which started around 1987. Benny had long harboured the idea of recording accordion led compositions and the result was his first solo album Klinga mina klockor on which Orsa Spelmän joined him.

Over the following years, various collaborations between Benny and Orsa Spelmän took place before Benny came up with the thought of adding extra musicians and forming an instrumental ensemble.

Adding the odd song with vocals also seemed a good idea and he called upon his lead from the Benny Andersson/Björn Ulvaeus musical epic Kristina från Duvemåla, Helen Sjöholm to lend her vocal prowess.

Benny Anderssons Orkster’s self-titled first CD was released in June 2001. Benny wrote all the music and Björn Ulvaeus contributed lyrics to the recording’s two tracks with vocals.

What followed was a recognition that this new project was lots of fun. With it came many opportunities for Benny to record compositions which had no other natural home.

Across BAO’s discography you will find a variety of folk influenced tracks, choir music, pop and even songs from film scores.

West End CHESS legend Tommy Körberg joined the group’s live performances in the mid 2000s and his vocals have featured on recordings alongside Helen Sjöholm’s since 2006.

Tommy Körberg, Helen Sjöholm and Benny Andersson at rehearsals earlier today
Tommy Körberg, Helen Sjöholm and Benny Andersson at rehearsals earlier today

Benny Anderssons Orkester has been a very Swedish project and as a result, the band have only occasionally performed outside of Sweden…Glasgow, London and Minnesota have all been lucky enough to host a BAO show.

There is an English language album (when Benny Anderssons Orkester became Benny Andersson Band) called Story Of A Heart which graced the UK Top 30 in 2009. The Benny Andersson/Björn Ulvaeus title track was also released in the UK as a single and was later covered by the group Steps.

Bästa Låtarna and tour merchandise
Bästa Låtarna and tour merchandise

On 14 June 2019, a ‘Best Of…’ compilation Bästa Låtarna was released featuring some of Benny Anderssons Orkester’s most beloved songs, many of which have hit top spot on Svensktoppen (Sverige Radio’s weekly record chart) including Du är min man which spent more than sixty weeks at number one and a record breaking 276 weeks on the chart in total.

The group have issued ten albums including the 6CD BAO in Box collection which also features two DVDs (an in-concert performance and the restaurant based musical documentary Benny Anderssons Orkester på nya äventyr).

Essentially, Benny Anderssons Orkester belongs to Sweden. The group’s live shows have become firm Swedish Summer favourites, with people in attendance bringing along picnics, dancing and singing the night away and keeping alive the ‘folkpark’ tradition so dear to Benny’s heart.

Kalle Moraeus, multi-instrumentalist, singer and TV presenter and an original member of Orsa Spelmän told us:

“I’m so looking forward to being on the tour with the band again. BAO is the best work/vacation one could possibly have. It is a pure joy from start to finish.”

If you are going to catch BAO on tour over the next couple of weeks, let’s hope the weather is on everybody’s side but above all we hope you have fun, because rest assured Benny and his group of merry men (and woman) certainly will.

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