I saw the show last night in Nottingham, so I figured I'd post my review up here. It's a bit lengthy, so if you want a cup of tea, I suggest you go make one now...
So, yes. Having loved "Chess" since I was erm...13 (I'm now 22), finally having a full production onstage touring around, I knew I HAD to see it.
..... and wow, it had "Craig Revel Horwood" stamped in big, bold glittery letters all over it! What with the fabulous array of sequins, faux fur, glitter, gold hotpants (Bangkok)....and the extremely fabulous and classy costumes for each and every member of the cast...my god, the whole design was delicious to say the least.
The show opens in Merano, Italy where Freddie and Anatoly are due to play in their tournamount (i can't spell tonight!). There's been some considerable switching songs around and cuts made, but the show works perfectly without them. I missed them, sure, but it doesn't do any harm imo. "Merano" for a start has been cut - instead the show opens with "The Story of Chess" sung by the ensemble who are dressed in extremely glorious, well designed costumes resembling chess pieces.
Seriously, those chess piece costumes deserve their own paragraph right here. I was sitting in the front row...right in the front...Belle, like Les Mis
I had the swooshing of the Arbiter's cloak swoosh across my face as he strutted about the stage Arbiterly...the gleam of the sequins on the White King's cloak in my eyes...fluff from the White Rook's trousers moulting into my face....
....yeah. LOVED my seat! Some people would have hated it. (My neck still aches a little) But by God it was worth it. The close up look I got at those costumes and the makeup....just...wow. The White Rook's costume inparticular was BEAUTIFUL. From what I could see, very subtle gold brocade on a fitted creme waistcoat, over a white-creme blazer, trousers detailed with sequins and marabou and a top hat with Rook detailing.
Another Piece costume I loved were the Pawns. All identical in military style blazers and trousers with silver detail on the back for the whites, and metal studs for the blacks. And the girls I discovered had black and white chequered long socks on under their trousers and brogue shoes. EPIC LOVE. *-*
Oh yes. Um. The show. Where was I....??
Following on from the intro, we had...crap, I can't remember the order. But we had a mix together of "Where I Want to Be" from Anatoly which was really well sung. I was a bit worried they were going to rush it as the backing track was a little too fast for my liking. But he held it together and didn't stumble over the lyrics, as I've heard has happened before with people using that new, quicker backing track.
Molokov also deserves his own paragraph. That man totally embodied the corrupt, manipulating Russian and did it with a slight sadistic pleasure which was fab to watch as he twisted people around his finger. Just...so delightfully slimy! Walter too (who I've never known too much about) was played very well and was great fun to watch, especially when doing his television announcements.
That's another thing about the set. They've modernised it in a good way. I was very worried it was all going to be emphasis on technology and nothing more, but really not. There's a great marriage of technology and old school theatre, with the actors also being stunningly talented musicians - singing and dancing whilst also being the orchestra! Especially of note here again were the Pawns who played everything from the triangle to the cello and rocked it out on violins too!
The television screens at the the back of the stage were used to great effect. I think there was a little webcam or something set up down stage left where Walter etc, and later Freddie, would speak into, thus broadcasting to the audience as if it were a news reel - very effective! Later in the show, one of the Pawns had a little camera attached to the end of her trumpet so she could play the music whilst broadcasting Freddie's poisonous interview with Anatoly at the same time!
The Opening Ceremony was...........wow. Walter and Molokov rocked that stage, seriously! There was something a little....subdued about it but not so much you'd really notice. The Pieces acted as Russian and American supporters, strutting along to Walter and Molokov's rarghing, then switched quickly into flouncing, boogying and strutting around as the shirtless, leather trousered, red-lined-cape-swooshing Arbiter strode onto the stage and totally OWNED it. CRH has really given that number a new lease of life. It's one of my favourites in the show anyway, but to see it being performed with such vigour, rainbow lighting and thumping, powerful music was amazing!!
Then for the Merchandisers the Pieces stripped off to reveal tight chequered pants, held up with braces and little cropped shirts reading "Pawn" or "Queen", all led in a jovial sales dance by a cheerleading Pawn.
Complete with the long socks and heeled brogues of course!
The scene where Anatoly and Freddie first play Chess and Freddie throws the game was done wonderfully. We start with the Pieces delicately miming along to the music with hand gestures and gentle movements. Then, as Freddie gets more and more agitated and stressed, the Pieces begin to fluster, fighting amongst themselves, clutching their heads in representation of Freddie's mental anguish and pressure before falling to the ground as Freddie hurls the board and pieces across the stage and storms out in a cloud of dry ice and fury.
Like I say, I've forgotten the order the songs came in but here's a rundown of my thoughts on some more of them.
Nobody's Side was gorgeously done by Shona White. Geez, that woman has a pair of lungs! Once again, the Pieces gave backing vocal and dance support and were utilised v.well.
Quartet - Excellent! Only gripe is they missed some of the Arbiter's lines out, causing him to stand there like a bit of a lemon for the first couple of minutes or so before chipping in.
OH! They've moved Pity the Child into the first half of the show. Not entirely sure why, but it still works! The guy playing Freddie whose name I've forgotten and can't be arsed to look up, has lungs to rival and possibly surpass Shona's. He held that final note forEVER. Seriously........I've never heard Anyone in ANYTHING hold a note for that long - just incredible. He poured every emotion possible into his rendition and his dedication and hard work totally shone off the stage.
Mountain Duet ...... Aw,sweet. I always like this one and it was very well sung. Just...nice.
Embassy Lament . OH LOVE. The Pawns headed this one in amusing stereotpyical cut glass RP. Very, VERY excellent with Head Pawn making thorough use of a little metal triangle to make her points absolpositivelylutely clear.
Now...Anthem is one of my favourites from the whole show. The whole setup...the variation in the melody..the power...the lyrics....just LOVE, and it was sung BEAUTIFULLY - I got such chills. I swear there wasn't a bad singer in the show. There wasn't even a mediocre singer - they were all top notch, and by golly I was sitting close enough to know for sure lol!
Interval came...Interval went as me and dad made a bit of a boo-boo with the ice creams. On our way out we lost track of each other, so I thought I'd be useful and go and grab the overpriced little tubs since there wasn't a queue yet and then go find him.
Apparantly he'd thought exactly the same thing.
Oh well, two tubs of ice cream was still nummy! (And let's face it, those things are so pitifully small that I didn't feel like too much of a pig for having two! )
One Night in Bangkok was a whole new level of awesome. I personally think it could have done with a little more oomph from somewhere, but I can't quite decide what or where. Something seemed lacking, but really, overall it was epic.
I thiiink they used costumes....I think. I'm sure that wasn't just gold body paint and glitter twirling and gyrating about on that stage.
Only thing that bugged me about the whole number was I was sitting directly behind a large floor spotlight which thoroughly obstructed my view of the gorgeously lithe and toned, gold-hotpanted, male pole dancer.
I Know Him So Well, and Heaven Help My Heart get a shared paragraph since they're on my list of "very good but overdone and bored of these now" songs. They were sung extremely well, can't fault them, but like "Memory" from Cats....I just tune out. Personal preference really, no reflection on the songs or the performers.
The Deal was FAB to watch. Again, Freddie went through a whole fizzing cocktail of emotions which was great to watch as he gradually crumbled to the floor, defeated once again by his Russian rival and ex-lover. Poor Freddie!
Endgame.............WOW. Somehow, I had no idea that Florence was involved in berating Anatoly too but either they changed that or I've been remiss all these years! Seeing both women he loves rip into Anatoly really stung and the way he cowered, pleading with them to see his side of things.....really made you feel for him.
Eventually, Freddie convinced Anatoly that all he has left now to stay true to is the spirit of Chess itself. He's already betrayed his wife, his lover....why betray himself? Thus, despite pressure from everyside to throw the game - to deliberately lose, Anatoly wins against his Soviet opponent.
Another thing I love is how Chess doesn't have a happy ending. It doesn't have a sad ending either but I love what they did with it. As Anatoly leaves Florence after she rejects him on last time...he walks through the back of the stage with Svetlana and Florence reprises Anthem to thunderous applause from the audience.
Just.............the whole thing was just stunningly beautiful from start to finish. Everything about it was so finely tuned and polished. I had my doubts earlier this evening about what I'd be going to see...afterall Chess does tend to be an acquired taste, unfortunately, considering how fantastic it really is. People seem to regard it as the forgotten musical, and indeed going from the fact that the audience tonight seemed to be entirely made up of people in their 50s-70s, I felt a little out of place.
Nonetheless, the smouldering smirk I received from the yummy White Rook at the end was a little cherry of the top of a very, very beautifully iced cake indeed.
All that's left for me to say is that if this productions comes anywhere near you, go and see it. Even if you don't know the show well, GO. You won't regret it!!!
Also, I'm left with no doubts that this production of "Chess" could very easily find a home in the West End for many years to come. I'd buy a ticket in a heartbeat!
Now, I'm going to go and defrost my hands because I've been typing for a solid hour in a rather freezing little room.