Chess In Concert

Various Artists

Warner Brothers, 2009

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/28/2017

Chess, a tragic musical about a love triangle set against the backdrop of the world of international chess competition, is a work that has passionate devotees. It has also suffered from remakes, remixes, dumbing down for the American stage, and so many edits that for years it lacked a definitive vision and focus. True Daily Vault devotees might remember that I reviewed the original 1984 version of Chess many years ago, and closed the review with the following sentences: “Straighten out the contracts, find one version of Chess, and put it on stage. It is a powerful musical that deserves a chance.”nbtc__dv_250

Thanks to Josh Groban and the London Philharmonic, it got its chance in 2008 – and it took it for all it was worth. 

Groban was instrumental in getting the musical staged for three nights with the London Philharmonic and an all-star cast, including Idina Menzel as Florence, Adam Pascal as The American, and Marti Pellow as The Arbiter. Groban himself played The Russian. Supporting players included Olivier Award-winning David Bedella as Molokov and Kerry Ellis as Svetlana.

Production on the two-disc recording is impeccable, with lyricist Tim Rice calling this the “definitive version.” Definitive it may be; beautiful it definitely is. Groban is, as usual, technically proficient and expressive, and his work on “Anthem” and “Where I Want To Be” are highlights here. Menzel handles “Nobody’s Side” with power and aplomb but is uncharacteristically delicate and muted on “Heaven Help My Heart.” Pascal handles the difficult “Pity The Child” admirably, and manages to sing “One Night In Bangkok” without sounding like the original. The highlight by far is Ellis’ “Someone Else’s Story” – she brings the house down (audibly, since the recording leaves the applause in) with the one song left in from the American revision, a wistful and elegant reflection on love and loss. The sole disappointment is Marti Pellow as the Arbiter: his eponymous “The Arbiter” lacks the snark and style of the 1984 version, ultimately falling flat.

An added bonus; if you can find the original release version, it includes a DVD of the performance that was recorded live for PBS.

Supposedly, there will be a Broadway version of this production in late 2018. Until such time when and if that happens, this is the definitive version of one of the best musicals of the last fifty years. Take the time to seek it out; you won’t be disappointe

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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