As well as the board game, Chess is the title of a musical by Tim Rice (of partnership with Andrew Lloyd Webber fame), Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (the two guys from Abba). First performed in 1984 with the following principal singers:

The musical tells the story of the nameless World Chess Championship protagonists The American and The Russian, and The American's aide Florence. A somewhat bitter diatribe on love and relationships rendered with Tim Rice's trademark witty lyrics, some of the topical content of the storyline may have dated in these halcyon post-perestroika days, but the music remains fresh and inspiring. In addition, the points made---especially in the second act---about the nature of relationships are eternal. But then I may be just bitter and cynical.

The following songs are included in the score:

Act One:

  1. Merano
  2. Where I Want To Be
  3. Opening Ceremony
  4. Quartet (A Model of Decorum and Tranquility)
  5. Nobody's Side
  6. Mountain Duet
  7. Florence Quits
  8. Embassy Lament
  9. Anthem

Act Two:

  1. One Night in Bangkok
  2. Heaven Help my Heart
  3. Argument
  4. I Know Him So Well
  5. The Deal (No Deal)
  6. Pity the Child
  7. Endgame
  8. Epilogue: You and I/The Story of Chess
the musical chess is a musical written by Tim Rice and the male half of ABBA. Takes place in the 1980's during the cold war and is alla bout love and deception.

Act I

The World Chess Championship is about to take place in Merano, a Tirolean town in north Italy. The champion (The American, in his mid-thirties) is defending his title against a new challenger (The Russian, in his early forties). The people of Merano are by and large very enthusiastic about the great eve3n that is taking place in their small community. The American is enthusiastic about the potential financial rewards of the match and about his own skill at bringing what has hitherto been a minority interest sport to the frenzied attention of the world media.

The American gives a press conference at his hotel at which he behaves petulantly and aggressively, denouncing his opponent, every other Soviet and the press with equal vigor. His performance is watched on television by the Russian and his KGB-employed second, Molokov, in their hotel. Molokov is inclined to dismiss the American as a nut. The Russian concedes that his opponent is eccentric, but realizes that every outrageous move made by the American is a calculated one. The Russian reflects upon his own rise to the top.

The Opening Ceremony is a hugely colorful event. Merano has pulled out all the stops. The Arbiter of the match points out with great gusto that his word is final during the series of games while the Merchandisers, Press, Politicians, Businessmen, and Diplomats all struggle to get everything they can from the excitement building up to fever pitch around the contest.

The American stages an effective and insulting walkout during the Arbiter's lengthy recap of the match regulations immediately after the Opening Ceremony. None are more insulted than his own second, Florence Vassy, who is left to defend her player's indefensible behavior to a sneering and pompously protesting Molokov. During this exchange, she meets the Russian player for the first time. The Russian shows some sympathy for her situation. The Arbiter continues to prattle on about the rules.

Florence confronts the American back at their hotel, telling him that she cannot tolerate his treatment of her much longer. We learn that she was born in Hungary, left that country when only two with her mother in 1956, during the uprising, and is now a naturalized British citizen. She has never discovered what happened to her father who 'disappeared' when the Hungarian uprising was crushed. She is determined to find out. She has worked for the American for seven years, since meeting him during a chess tournament in England. We suspect their relationship is almost like that of mother and child, although both are around the same age. Their argument reinforces the belief that the only person she can ever really rely on is herself.

The first game of the contest begins with an atmosphere of mutual loathing hanging over the proceedings as the two players make their first moves. Tension builds as much offboard as on with both men resorting to underhand tactics to distract or enrage the other. Suddenly, high drama as the two players fling the board up in the air. They walk out after coming near to blows. Consternation everywhere.

Florence and Molokov have an unofficial meeting to discuss the collapse of the match, which no one really wants to abandon. After some spirited insult-trading, Florence takes the initiative and tells Molokov where and when he is to deliver his player for a secret, off the record, meeting between the two contestants, in order that the match can resume without either party losing face. Molokov attempts to rattle Florence at one stage by implying that he knows some Hungarian history that she might like to learn about.

At a private room in a restaurant halfway up a Merano mountain, Florence and the American arrive for the secret meeting. The Russian is late and the American leaves the restaurant in mock disgust. Almost at once the Russian and a junior member of his backup team arrive to find no opponent waiting for them, only his opponent's second. During the conversation that follows, the Russian and Florence are quickly attracted to each other, the almost romantic mood rudely interrupted when the American returns.

The American and the Russian argue, trade insults and jokes but thanks largely to Florence's delicate touch, they both agree on a press statement sharing blame for the breakdown and to resume playing.

Some days later, the American and Florence are discussing the progress of the match. Things are going badly for the American who is unpleasantly agitated. The cause is all but totally lost. He blames Florence for his failure and as they hurl abuse at each other, she tells him she is going to leave him after the match, even if by some miracle he won it. The American is devastated and alternates between fury and pleading with her to stay. His paranoia about the Reds surfaces - he is convinced the Soviets have something to do with both his loss of form and Florence's desertion. The finish of his argument is a "squalid little ending" to their relationship. Even after Florence has left, the American continues to justify his actions to himself.

At an unidentified Western embassy some days later, the Russian, the newly-crowned world chess champion, asks for political asylum, although he has problems winning the instant support and interest of the civil servants in the embassy.

Eventually he gets the forms and freedom he wants. Certain he has made the right decision, he is equally certain of what he will never be able to leave.

Act II

One year has passed. The Russian is to defend his title against a new challenger from the Soviet Union in Bangkok, Thailand. The American an some locals discuss the venue for the championship.

Florence and the Russian, who have been lovers since his defection, are in the Oriental Hotel, Bangkok. They discuss his new opponent and wonder why the American is in town, as he has played no serious chess since his defeat in Merano. They also talk about the refusal of the Soviet authorities to let his wife out of the USSR. The Russian leaves to discuss tactics with his seconds; Florence, alone, speculates about their future together.

Molokov and his team are confident that this time around they have a player who is totally trustworthy and can be relied upon (a) to win and (b) to stay in Russia. Their new champion is a rather weird introvert who only seems to be able to function at full steam when talking or playing chess.

The Russian is interviewed on Thai TV. To his amazement, he discovers that his interviewer is the American, who proceeds to ask him about his personal life, about Florence, and about his politics - never about chess. The American finally tells him (on the air) that arrangements have been made to fly his wife into Bangkok in time for the match. Enraged, the Russian storms out.

The Russian and Florence watch his wife (Svetlana) on television arriving in Bangkok. The event brings the tension between them to a climax. (Argument) The Russian says he must leave Florence for the duration of the competition. Florence is left alone with the TV still showing Svetlana's image. She recalls how well she knows the lover who has just left her. Svetlana recalls how well she knows her husband.

The American forces his way into the Russian's quarters to offer him a deal. Despite the personal pressures already weighing heavily on the Russian, he has begun the match in great style, winning the first two games. The American now says that if his winning streak should suddenly come to an end, then Florence will not be given information he claims to have received from the Soviets about her father. This information is extremely unpleasant, revealing her father to have been a traitor to his people, not a hero, responsible for a score of deaths. The Russian does not know whether to believe him or not, but throws him out. The American then approaches Florence, suggesting that if she would only return to him, not only would they once again be the greatest chess team ever witnessed, he would also be able to provide her with news (he does not say whether it is good or bad) she has always wanted about her past. She too rejects his offer.

His frustration and rejection by Florence cause the American to explode in a fury of self-pity and anger.

The deciding game in the match begins. Memories of former champions are evoked. Molokov and the American have a conversation which reveals them to have been in league against the Russian, albeit for very different reasons. Florence, watching the match, although not knowing that her lover has been put under pressure to lose, sees his obsession with victory destroying his ability to care for her.

The Russian, defying everyone, plays like a dream and annihilates his opponent. He finds himself amused and delighted by the fact that his various enemies have so misjudged his will to win. He may have failed in his efforts to sort out his private life but he has succeeded in professional, public life and he knows that this is the only success he really wants. He rejoices in his victory, but even as the crowds acclaim him and as his wife vainly attempts to make some kind of contact with him, he almost immediately feels a sense of hollow anti-climax. He despises himself for the narrow selfish ambitions and desires that satisfy him. So does Svetlana; any chance of reconciliation between them is gone. They both acknowledge, she with bitterness, he with resignation, that henceforth their "one true obligation" is to themselves.

Whereas the Russian for the first has been able to put his career before everything else, the change has gone the other way for the American. He hardly thinks of chess now; only that his machinations have failed to alleviate his personal despair - Florence will not return to him even if her relationship with the Russian has foundered. He plans revenge on both Florence and the Russian, while Molokov, apprehensive about his own future, prepares suitable treatment for his failed protege.

EPILOGUE:

But has that relationship foundered? Florence and the Russian reflect, simultaneously but separately, upon their story that they thought was a very happy one; like the game of chess the game of love can be played in an almost limitless number of variations. Perhaps this was just one of many games that end in stalemate. "Yet we go on pretending, stories like ours have happy endings." As they finish, the American is seen approaching Florence. He has some news for her...


Synopsis appreciated from the soundtrack linear notes.

Chess I : is actually known as the London production, and was staged for three years at the Prince Edward theater in London. It was preceeded by an album only release of the music from Chess, many of the songs enjoying notable position on the charts in Europe, the UK and the US.

This production was extremely expensive, well up in the millions. It was a multimedia extravaganza, featuring a grid of 64 monitors on each side of the stage, and an addition grid which could be lowered. The stage itself could be tilted and rotated.

Although this version of Chess was very well received, it barely managed to recoup the fortune invested in it. Unfortunately, it was overshadowed by the Phantom of the Opera which opened in 1986. (Tim Rice had actually approached Andrew Lloyd Webber to write Chess, however, Mr. Webber was busy with other projects. The two had previously collaborated on many succesfull ventures together.)

Chess II : was the Broadway release. And was a major rewrite. This was due in part to perestroika which made the United States vs. Russia redundant, and also to attempt to reduce the cost of the production. Florence was rewritten to be American, and was to be played by an American. The stage was completely redesigned. The dances were all but removed, and choreography almost non-existant. The characters were butchered. I could go on, but the best indication of how much the London production was butchered for broadway : Tim Rice all but disowned the project before opening night. Despite this the music was at least on par with "Chess I", and the performances were strong.

The critics tore it a new one. It ran from April to June 1988.

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