Staging CHESS during dangerous and difficult times
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’.
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.
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.
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