This weekend, Helsinki’s Svenska Teatern (the Swedish National Theatre) unveiled a new production of the Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice musical Chess på Svenska.
Scenes from Svenska Teatern’s premiere of Chess på Svenska
Adapted for the Finnish stage by Lars Rudolfsson and directed by Maria Sid, the show closely follows the original Swedish format. A couple of notable differences being the inclusion of another song, Sanninges minut (The Moment Of Truth), created through the addition of lyrics, written by Björn, to a section of End Game and a comical send-up of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in place of the circus style acts just before The Deal. It also incorporates the Press Conference scene first introduced in Gothenburg.
The cast, led by Maria Yilpää as Florence, Glenn Edell in the role of the American Freddie Trumper, Johanna Ström as Svetlana and Alexander Lycke as the Russian Anatolij Serievskij, together with Kristofer Möller as Molokov and Silva Lillrank playing the first ever female Arbiter, all give outstanding performances.
In comparison with the English National Opera’s recent lavish production of CHESS, the staging at Svenska Teatern is quite minimalistic. The plot is easily followed though in this pared down production which allows the magnificent score to shine.
Benny Andersson at Svenska Teatern, Helsinki
Speaking to icethesite after the show, Benny said that he is delighted with how his music sounds.
“Anders Eljas has done a really great job with the orchestral arrangements, and the acoustics in Svenska Teatern are just wonderful,” he said. “It has been a pure joy to work with so many talented artists in a setting such as this. I don’t think I have ever heard Nobody’s Side sound as good!”
With the reviews so far being some of the best in the history of the musical and many critics awarding the production the coveted maximum five stars, the press are hailing Chess på Svenska a huge success.
Saturday’s premiere audience showed their appreciation with a standing ovation accompanied by plenty of foot stomping and whoops of delight as the cast took their curtain calls.
So, does Benny think the Svenska Teatern’s production may be getting close to the much talked about ‘definitive version’ of the musical?
“No! But as the song almost goes… each show of Chess means there’s one less variation left to be played!” he laughed.
Chess på Svenska runs in Helsinki until Spring 2019. Tickets are available now through the theatre’s official website svenskateatern.fi
On Monday 7 May, five years to the day since it first opened on the Stockholm island of Djurgården, ABBA The Museum unveiled its new, much anticipated, ‘After ABBA’ exhibition.
Scenes from the After ABBA exhibition at ABBA The Museum
Celebrating the musical careers of the four ABBA members since their ‘break’ in 1982, the exhibition, which occupies the space that previously housed The Swedish Music Hall of Fame, features individual areas dedicated to Agnetha and Frida’s after ABBA careers, plus sections for the Benny and Björn musicals Mamma Mia!, CHESS, Kristina från Duvemåla and Hjälp sökes. Also featured of course is Benny’s latest band, Benny Anderssons Orkester (BAO).
As in the original section of the museum, the post-ABBA journey begins with a short video montage. Once inside, visitors are surrounded by beautifully lit costumes, scenery and props from the musicals, gold discs, rare photographs and memorabilia plus never-before-seen videos.
There are also a variety of interactive activities including the chance to conduct a virtual orchestra playing music from the CHESS score, dancing to BAO on a wooden dance floor alongside strings of coloured lights (just like the real BAO shows), singing along with Benny collaborator and BAO member Kalle Moraeus, repainting Donna’s villa on the set of Mamma Mia! and trivia quizzes.
More views from the After ABBA exhibition at ABBA The Museum
Museum Director Caroline Fagerlind said: “We want to tell the full story of the band. We want to show visitors that ABBA have kept their creativity alive, that they are still around us today and that their story continues to grow.”
As you leave the exhibition, which is a permanent addition to the museum, the words ‘To be continued…’ are inscribed along the wall.
Last Monday’s official opening ceremony, attended by Björn Ulvaeus, was followed by an evening party for 200 invited guests including Benny Andersson, Görel Hanser, Helen Sjöholm, Peter Jöback, Tommy Körberg, Ingmarie Halling, ABBA’s costume designer Owe Sandström, sound engineer Michael B Tretow, guitar player Janne Schaffer, photographer Anders Hanser, Benny’s son Peter with wife Nanne and a handful of lucky fans.
During the celebrations, to the delight of the party-goers, Benny took to his accordion and together with a few of his BAO bandmates played two instrumental tracks, BAO’s ever-popular Cirkus finemang and The Soviet Machine from the musical CHESS.
Afterwards, Benny told icethesite how he has been actively engaged with the project from the outset: “I’ve read through all the analogue and digital texts on display and watched the videos,” he said.
“They also asked me to choose the music for the virtual conductor and I thought that the instrumental introduction to Bangkok would be tricky enough,” he laughed.
However, despite this involvement Benny said he has yet to see the finished exhibition: “I’ve seen some pictures though and I think it looks really nice,” he told us.
A new compilation CD ‘after ABBA’ released to tie in with the launch of the exhibition and which features the brand new Arturo Sandoval/Frida cover of ABBA’s Andante, Andante is available exclusively at the museum shop.
Part of the After ABBA exhibition at ABBA The Museum
Check out the ABBA The Museum website for tickets to see the new exhibition for yourself.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
With all the current interest in CHESS, we asked Benny if there was more to come?
“The corpse is moving!” he joked.