Chess The Musical

Chess The Musical
Music by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaes. Book and Lyrics by Tim Rice. Very Popular Theatre Company Directed by Erin James

A year after it was called off at the eleventh hour due to the pandemic, this spectacular concert edition of the musical burst onto the stage of Newcastle’s beautiful Civic Theatre.

A large chorus of singers were located at the back of the stage, the orchestra was front and centre, whilst the actors weaved in and out of the players, sometimes on a raised platform, at other times in front of them.

Giant flags of the Soviet Union and United States were unfurled when appropriate, and impressive AV, featuring images and chess graphics adorned either side of the stage.

Onto this attractive canvas burst the songs and drama of this musical, which famously has monster hits by the ABBA boys and the craft of writer Tim Rice.

The Cold War themed drama set around an international Chess tournament is both thrilling and flawed. The musical is too long and too complicated. It has had various incarnations which all have their strengths and weaknesses.

The aptly named Very Popular Theatre Company produced the goods in this pro-am production. Invited guest professionals Silvie Paladino as Florence Vassy, and David Harris as Russian master Anatoly Sergievsky were in fine voice – with Silvie rattling the chandeliers during her arias.

Local professional Marty Worrall was also commanding as US champion Freddie Trumper.

There is room for improvement for future concert presentations, especially the stage placement of the leads. They were sometimes hard to find when they stood up behind the orchestra. Also, the chorus could have been given more opportunities to express themselves, beyond their voices.

Nonetheless, aided by a strong ensemble and gorgeous sounding orchestra under the baton of Dan Wilson it was an exciting night in the theatre.

David Spicer



Subscribe to our E-Newsletter, buy our latest print edition or find a Performing Arts book at Book Nook.