One Night in Moscow!

by Frederic Friedel
12/15/2020 – The opening night of the Russian production of the musical CHESS took place in the Broadway Moscow Theatre in October. It is scheduled to become the first and only large-scale musical premiere in Russia this Fall, if and when the restrictions on presentation of theatrical productions have been lifted by the authorities. We have some videos from the premiere for you to watch. That is something you really should not miss.

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The Russian production of CHESS, written by Tim Rice and set to music by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA fame, took place in Moscow's MDM Theatre — home of Broadway Moscow Theatre Company on October 17, 2020. The Guardian writes:

Given the musical’s chorus of villainous Soviet spooks and a hero who is threatened by the KGB after his defection, the show might seem an unlikely draw for Moscow audiences. But producers have made a number of changes, including “humanising” the hero’s KGB handler and removing the role of an American spy.

“In our interpretation, there are no heroes and no villains,” said Dmitry Bogachev, who produced the show, which opens on Saturday at the Moscow Palace of Youth. “All of them are lifelike and complicated. There’s a lot of good and bad in all of them.”

The high-octane, hi-tech production has earned standing ovations in previews, though it does not expect to perform to full houses: the theatre will be capped at 65% of capacity under Moscow’s coronavirus measures, which also require the audience to wear masks throughout and undergo temperature checks on entry.

Anatoly Karpov was invited to the stage after the 20-minute standing ovation at the premiere. | Photo: Moscow Broadway

Anatoly Karpov: “It is an amazing premiere, although I do feel uneasy at being cast at the main protagonist in such a renowned premiere. Translating Tim Rice’s libretto into Russian is a tall order, but Alexey Ivaschenko managed to do it. It is clear that Sergievsky’s character is a cumulative one, but several details of my chess life are noticeable. It’s a very difficult task to show chess in art form; from the outside, it seems that it is a very calm game, but on the inside great emotions and passions are at play. This performance is about that. I want to congratulate everybody who took part in this show!”

Other chess players at the premiere:

Alexandra Kosteniuk: “I’ve wanted to see this musical for a long time, and I am happy that I was able to do so in Moscow. This musical is a powerful performance. The stage sees the human tragedies, treachery, love and the pain of mistakes. And chess, oddly enough, does not play the dominant role in all this.”

Sergey Karjakin: “It was very interesting and dramatic. I felt immersed into the events at that time, attending matches between Spassky and Fischer, and between Karpov and Korchnoi. And they were not just matches for the world championship, they were contests between entire nations. The musical conveyed that brilliantly. And I would like to express thanks to the directors, since they have done a wonderful job popularising chess, which is extremely important!”

Source: Russian Chess Federation

And now for the treat...

Here are two videos from the Moscow performance. Maximize the YouTube screen, sit back and enjoy. Before each of the videos you have one from the original London performance, for translation and comparison.

CHESS Musical in London: One Night In Bangkok

And the same song from the Moscow production: One Night In Bangkok

"Pity the Child" from the original London production

and the same song in the Moscow production: Pity the Child

I find the Moscow performance of CHESS very impressive, almost beyond words. Congratulations!

I am sure I will not be able to resist posting further YouTube videos when I find them. I have a special personal relationship to the musical). When it was first produced in 1986 I saw it in London, and met with Tim Rice and Elaine Paige.

A year later Tim gave me an LP set of the musical, which my son Tommy, aged six, listened to many times. It is one of the reasons why he became perfectly bilingual.

If any of our readers have good links to the Moscow production please add them in the comment section below.

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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