PRODUCTION:ORIGINAL LONDON PRODUCTION,LATER CASTPRINCE EDWARD THEATRE,1986, PROGRAMME
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CAST:TOMMY KORBERG,TOM JOBE,KEVIN COLSON,JOHN TURNER,SIOBHAN MCCARTHY IN THE LEAD ROLE OF FLORENCE,RIA JONES
CONDITION:GOOD,cast pics and biogs,44 pages
Chess is a musical with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, formerly of ABBA. The story involves a romantic triangle between two players in a world chess championship, and a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other. Although the protagonists were not intended to represent any specific individuals, the characters’ personalities are loosely based on those of Victor Korchnoi and Bobby Fischer.
Following the pattern of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, a concept album of Chess was recorded in 1984, and generated a number of hit singles. The first theatrical version of Chess opened in London's West End in 1986 and played for three years. A much-altered production premiered on Broadway in 1988, but most critics gave it a poor reception, and it failed to attract large audiences. Chess premiered in the Prince Edward Theatre in London on 14 May 1986. It was originally set to be directed by Michael Bennett, but he withdrew for health reasons. He only did so, however, after casting the show and commissioning the expensive set and costume designs. The show was rescued by director Trevor Nunn, who shepherded the show on to its scheduled opening, though with considerable technical difficulty.
According to set designer Robin Wagner, interviewed in Lynn Pecktal's book Set Design, the original Bennett version was to be a "multimedia" show, with an elaborate tilting floor, banks of television monitors, and other technological touches. Nunn, realizing he could never bring Bennett’s vision to fruition, instead applied his realistic style to the show, although the basics of the mammoth set design were still present in Nunn's show. This included the three videowalls, the main of which featured commentary from chess grandmaster William Hartston, along with appearances from BBC newsreaders. The premiere of the musical provoked a mixed verdict from the critics and, according to Variety, "one of the bigger West End mob-scenes in recent memory." Most of the naysaying notices had comments ranging from "far too long" and "shallow" to The Guardian conclusion, "A musical is only as good as its book, and here one is confronted by an inchoate mess." Several London papers were on the other end of scale, including the Telegraph, which said the show "compels admiration," while The Times noted that "it turns out to be a fine piece of work that shows the dinosaur mega-musical evolving into intelligent form of life." Some writers, notably Frank Rich and Ken Mandelbaum, have pointed out that final product was hampered by the starkly different styles of Bennett, who was creating a flamboyant, elaborate, and stylish show, and Nunn, who was more attuned to realism and grandiosity (an example being Nunn's addition of dozens of chairs, desks, tables, and photographic backdrops to the otherwise stylized, high-tech set).
In London, Chess was a massive physical production, with estimated costs up to $12 million. The West End production won a London Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Musical and received three Laurence Olivier Award nominations: Best Musical, Outstanding Performance by an Actor (Körberg) and Outstanding Performance by an Actress (Paige), closing on 8 April 1989.
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