On Wednesday June 17, the PBS series Great Performances will broadcast a spectacular concert performance of the Tim Rice - Benny Andersson - Björn Ulvaeus musical Chess. The concert, taped at the Royal Albert Hall, features Josh Groban, Idina Menzel and Adam Pascal, plus the City of London Philharmonic Orchestra. A CD and DVD are released June 16.
This has long been one of my favorite shows. Chess was originally a 1984 concept album and was staged in 1986, with Murray Head and Elaine Paige. It tells the complicated tale of two chess champions, one American and one Russian, vying for the world championship, with Cold War politics and the messy entanglements of love looming over all. The ending is truly bittersweet, a rarity on the musical stage, but it fits a story where politics, national identity, ambition and status distort every relationship.
The acerbic lyrics are by Tim Rice, of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita fame, and the themes of politics and celebrity are right in line with his previous works. The ABBA duo of Andresson and Ulvaeus mix their trademark disco-pop with chamber music, sweeping orchestral interludes, and power ballads. The most famous number from the show, "One Night in Bangkok," was a big hit single for Murray Head. The show was a huge hit in London, though a Broadway version (with totally re-written book) was a flop. I saw the UK tour, which combined the best of both, in 1990 and was quite blown away. I can't wait to see this!