Chess moves in to the Core Theatre with an accomplished cast.
The concept album of Chess was first released in 1984, later staged in the Prince Edward Theatre, London in May 1986, and continues to be a popular musical today. This Rice-Abba musical is essentially a love story that develops when an American chess player, Freddy Trumper (David Steele), and his girlfriend Florence (Jen Collins) travel to Italy to defend his title against Russian opponent Anatoly Sergievsky (Daniel Thomson). Sergievsky then secretly plans to defect to the West after falling in love with Florence.
Tim Rice’s original idea was to write a musical about the effects of the Cold War and had first approached Andrew Lloyd Webber to write the score. Producer Richard Vos later introduced Rice to Ulvaeus and Andersson and soon after the team of three set out to create the well-sold concept album. The stage show adaptation, following a rocky start, underwent rework before moving to Broadway Carnegie Hall where it became a success.
The story, first half set in the Italian mountain village of Merano, the second in the hotels and temples of Bangkok, features hit singles One Night In Bangkok and I Know Him So Well and the score embraces all of the instantly recognizable Ulvaeus and Andersson melodies, harmonies and arrangements that we really do know so well.
This exciting stage production by Knowle Musical Society, headed by the most capable of directors Andrew Johnson, features very strong vocal performances by the three principal actors and indeed by the whole cast. A truly charismatic execution by David Steele is complemented by Jen Collins who seizes the star role with her beautiful voice surely designed to steal your attention. This is especially apparent in the Act 2 duet You And I (sung with the equally excellent Daniel Thomson), where the lovers absorb the stage and exude real, emotional warmth.
Proficient vocalist Dan Peet convincingly plays The Arbiter, complemented by an excellent portrayal of Molokov the Russian Second, by the equally talented Jonathan Busk. Walter played by Steve Hayes, who is clearly no stranger to the stage, plays the American Financial Advisor and CIA Agent charming us with his clear-cut acting, talented spoken voice and self-assured singing and Phill Sproston confidently plays the part of The TV Presenter.
Svetlana (Sophia Bailey), Anatoly’s estranged wife, joins us in Act 2 with an outstanding performance of Someone Else’s Story. Bailey later teams up with Collins to duet the timeless classic I Know Him So Well allowing the audience to savour a performance not far reaching from the Paige and Dickinson version that hit the UK no.1 spot in 1985.
On each side of the stage we are treated to flown-in TV screens that live-stream the chess games and the clever, transitional set is moved around quickly by stage crew and cast members to create the ever-changing scenes. With a strong supporting cast and artistically fitting choreography designed by Abi Soley, the Society have clearly worked passionately to achieve this high standard, clearly well-received by the audience.
Special mention must go to the superbly talented orchestra, headed by Musical Director Kris Chase-Byrne, certainly a musical indulgence and a highlight of the evening for me.
Runs to 11 March.
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