Monday, 27 August 2012
Chess The Musical, Aug 22, 2012 ***
Music by Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus, Lyrics by Tim Rice
Produced by The Production Company
State Theatre, Melbourne Arts Centre, Aug 22 to 26, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Chess The Musical has a history as chequered as its chessboard design, despite having great credentials including lyrics by Tim Rice and music by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus.
It includes the memorable hit songs, One Night In Bangkok and I Know Him So Well, and includes other singable pop tunes and orchestrations.
This production by lauded musical theatre director, Gale Edwards, boasts an exceptionally talented cast, perky choreography (Tony Bartuccio) and a stylish, black and white set design (Shaun Gurton).
However, one can’t ignore the fact that Rice’s narrative is shabby, inconsistent and lacking in dramatic tension or dramatic arc and that it needs a script that is more than a washing line on which to hang good songs.
It is set in Italy and Bangkok during two grandmaster chess championships between Russia and America against the background of the Cold War.
Freddy (Martin Crewes), the American chess champion, loses both his world title and his lover, Florence (Silvie Paladino) to Russian master, Anatoly (Simon Gleeson), but the stakes simply are not high enough and chess is a static cerebral activity that does not provide any stage action.
Despite the failings of Rice’s piece, Edwards, her cast and the orchestra make this an enjoyable night.
Paladino is sweet-voiced with fine control and power, and her duet of I Know Him So Well with Alinta Chidzey as Svetlana, is touching.
Gleeson’s tone is bright and his rendition of Anthem is thrilling, and he makes Anatoly a sympathetic character, Crewes brings bravado and tough rock singer tones to the larrikin, Freddy.
Mark Dickinson’s rich baritone makes Molokov the conniving Russian menacing and Michael Falzon is cheeky and in fine voice as the chess referee.
Links between songs and scenes are contrived or non-existent and the script never decides whose story it is, but, despite these failings, Edwards and cast make this production enjoyable.
By Kate Herbert