Musical Pleasure

Signature Theater in Arlington, Virginia is running a production of the 80s musical Chess. This love story against the backdrop of the game and Cold War politics was a big hit in London but a bomb on Broadway.

lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, formerly of ABBA. The story involves a romantic triangle between two top players, and a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other; all in the context of a Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union, during which both countries wanted to win international chess tournaments for propaganda purposes. Although the protagonists were not intended to represent any specific individuals, the character of the American was loosely based on chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer,[1] while elements of the story may have been inspired by the chess careers of Russian grandmasters Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov. (see Wikipedia article for more details)If you remember the Fisher/Spassky chess match of 1972, this carries additional meaning.

This production is amazing! The three leads: Jeremy Kushnier (Signature’s The Rhythm Club and Broadway’s Footloose), Euan Morton (Broadway’s Sondheim on Sondheim and Taboo) and Jill Paice (Signature’s ACE and Broadway’s Curtains!) sing beautifully.

The Ensemble all sing well and include both thin and zoftig characters. The dancing moves takes a bit from disco and tries to make it 2010.

One big change from the Broadway production is the woman lead is more sympathetic. She was a calculating person in the earlier version, probably a good thing for a person who plays the game of chess. Here she wins over hearts. This production switched the location of her songs with the song, Anthem.  They also added a song You and I.

The Signature production changes the locaton of One Night in Bangkok to the middle of Act One from the begging of Act Two. There are several other songs that are added on to Act One that make the personalities of Freddie, The American chess grand master, and Florence much more prominent in this version of the story.

Friends thought the book silly: a simple romance, really. Others wondered if the show had enough heart. They did not find any character to support and root for in the show. I wondered how a show so 1980s that it discusses communism as a viable system and has images of Ronald Reagan start off the show, could entice people to spend a hundred dollars to buy a ticket on the Great White Way.

Go see it in DC, you’ll want to dance in your seat.


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