Wednesday, 14 January 2009

De Telegraaf, 1984: Chess needs a lot of finetuning

A Dutch newspaper report about the Chess concert performance at the Amsterdam Concerthouse.
Because Benny Andersson, Tim Rice and Björn Ulvaeus obviously had seen it coming that the old saying ‘let the cobbler stick to his last’ would be the main focus of all criticism, at the concert performance of their musical Chess they explicitly chose the position of underdog.

That’s how Rice addressed the owner of the car with licence plate this or that with the request to remove his car, “coincidentally the brand name of our sponsor”, from the entrance of the Concerthouse.
All three of the multi-millionaires sang an off-key song, in which they swore to be willing to kill for “merchandising”. In the end, Ulvaeus confessed that tonight was actually all about the Swedish entry for the 1985 Eurovision Song Contest.
All of this, to make the mortuary atmosphere in the Concerthouse, created by an unusual mixture of guests and people who had been willing to pay 75 Dutch guilders for a ticket, just a little less solemn.
With so much exuberantly displayed modesty, the very heavy character of Chess was even more conspicuous than it had already been on the album, but on the other hand it was also notable that pretensions and ambitions could be fulfilled for the most part.
Even in the static concert performance – it won’t be a genuine stage play until next year – Chess was an impressing spectacle, almost perfectly executed by the full London Symphony Orchestra, a band, two choirs and soloists such as Murray Head, Elaine Paige and the Swedish opera singer Tommy Körberg, who claimed the applause for the most part.

Rice, Andersson and Ulvaeus are all notorious perfectionists, but in the interaction between 233 (!) individuals, just enough tiny things went wrong to turn the concert performance of Chess into a job done by actual people, distinctly much more lively, and especially with much more warmth than the version on the perfect, but almost produced to death double album.

In the concert performance, the genuinely terrifying thin storyline about Russian and American chess players and their political and amorous motivations wasn’t all that obvious, but for West End and Broadway, Chess needs an awful lot of finetuning to turn it into a real musical.
But anyone who knows the “Track Record” of its creators, has no doubt whatsoever that Chess will eventually get there.

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