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Chess - The Musical

By December 13, 2012

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I've been on a "Chess" binge lately. Not the board game, but the show tunes. I've been listening to it all week. The funny thing is, when I listen to it, I have no idea what's going on, because this show has been reinvented so many times. Does the Russian win the game at the end? Do the lovers reunite? It all depends on which production you've seen.

Debuting on the West End in the mid-1980s, Chess did moderately well in London. However, after it was re-tooled and re-written for American audiences, the show tanked on Broadway, closing within three months. Many people, myself included, blame the over-wrought book. The musical's storyline is a bit haphazard in both the British and the American versions. It gets even more muddled from there, since subsequent tours of Chess resulted in alternative endings.

Check out what Tim Rice had to say about the multitude of different productions:

Chess lasted a mere eight weeks on Broadway. Normally, that would be that for the long-term future of a humiliated show, but for some reason this one has refused to roll over and die, even in America. The reason was of course the songs, which even our misconceived Broadway escapade had not managed to destroy. Actors and singers still wanted to have a bash at the wonderful melodies, especially in auditions, and directors felt that they could put up with the confusion of the plot (a) because every few minutes another great tune turns up and (b) they could re-write chunks of the story themselves as no-one allegedly in control of the show seemed to know what the official version was anymore.

I was happy to discover that the show's creators have immortalized at least one version of their musical. In 2009, they filmed Chess in Concert, starring non other than Josh Groban, Idena Menzel, and Adam Pascal. Have you seen a production of Chess? Leave a comment and share your opinion of this magnificent mess of a musical.


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