On October 17, 2020, the vibrant tapestry of musical theatre in Moscow was enriched with the addition of CHESS, a spectacular musical by Benny Andersson, Tim Rice, and Björn Ulvaeus. Despite the lingering shadow of the global pandemic and historical significance, the show, held at the MDM Theatre – the home of Broadway Moscow Theatre Company, stood as a testament to the indomitable spirit of art and creativity.
Braving the Storm: Setting the Stage in Unpredictable Times
The revival of CHESS came at a time when the theatre scene in Russia was slowly resurrecting after being stifled by restrictions due to the pandemic. Being the only large-scale musical premiere in the country during the Autumn of 2020, the excitement was palpable, albeit fraught with apprehension.
With the looming threat of theatres facing potential closure, both the creative team and the audience exhibited tremendous courage and commitment to the arts. Furthermore, the historical context is noteworthy – CHESS’s original concept album was banned in Russia in 1984 for containing ‘anti-Soviet sentiments’, making this staging all the more remarkable.
A Standing Ovation: A Homage to Exceptional Artistry
CHESS, well-known for its captivating storyline and music, was received with standing ovations on the opening night, and the nights that followed. The Moscow production creatively integrated elements from both the original London production and parts of the Swedish rendition. One of the highlights was the deepened characters of the Russian delegation, especially Svetlana and Anatoly.
In a nod to the musical’s theme, the stage was dominated by striking blue and grey tones, which served to emphasize the underlying currents of the storyline. Dmitry Bogachev, the CEO of Broadway Moscow Theatre Company and the producer of the musical, aptly described CHESS as an “acknowledged theatrical phenomenon”.
The Creative Ensemble: Stellar Performances and Production
The principal roles were astutely portrayed by Alexander Sukhanov, Alexander Bobrov, Anastasia Stotskaya, and Anna Guchenkova. The cast was ably supported by an incredible creative team. The role of musical director and conductor was served by John Rigby, who had previously lent his expertise to the English National Opera staging of CHESS at the London Coliseum in 2018.
A Grandmaster’s Tribute: Kudos from Anatoly Karpov
Anatoly Karpov, the Russian chess grandmaster and former World Champion, who attended the Moscow staging of CHESS, was particularly moved, stating, “It is strange to know that I was a kind of prototype of the main character of this great work.” His words echoed the sentiment that CHESS is not just a musical, but a representation of the lives and struggles of real people.
For the Aficionados: A Podcast by Sir Tim Rice
CHESS enthusiasts looking to explore deeper into the musical can tune in to ‘Get Onto My Cloud’, a podcast by Sir Tim Rice, one of the co-creators of CHESS. The podcast delves into his illustrious career in music, with episodes dedicated exclusively to CHESS. Listeners can revel in the plethora of CHESS demos, including renditions by Agnetha Fältskog and a collaborative version by Benny, Björn, and Tim.