A knight to remember! Featuring the iconic music of ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus & Benny Andersson, lyrics by Tim Rice & Bjorn Ulvaeus and book by Tim Rice, the worldwide stage hit CHESS THE MUSICAL will debut at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre in two exclusive performances on Saturday 24 April 2021. From StoreyBoard Entertainment, the producers behind the critically acclaimed Barnum, CHESS THE MUSICAL is inspired by extraordinary real-life events and first premiered to glowing reviews in London’s West End in 1986. Heather Bloom chats to director Tyran Parke about post pandemic performances and the enduring nature of live theatre.
Chess! Why this musical, and why now?
That’s a good question! To be honest it’s been on the back burner for so long, so even though we’ve been talking about it for years it does feel like it came out of nowhere. We wanted to return Chess to its original concert format and having lost quite a bit artistically this year, I’m thrilled that Chess is going to happen. It’s a great project to connect to and bring people together, plus the great score. ABBA always wrote autobiographical songs even for the band, so Chess has the great pop idiom put into a story. It was originally created as an album and so many of the songs became hits, but underneath is this complicated and intriguing storyline. Over the years Chess has had various forms on the stage, for example the London production ran for three years while the Broadway production ran for three weeks.
Why only 2 shows?
It’s a variety of reasons, we weren’t sure about audiences to begin with but there’s been such a wave of affection it’s been great. Also the show jumps over to Perth and with the world suddenly opening up, artist availability is a little more difficult to coordinate as people get booked. But if the two shows go well and people want more, I don’t think anyone would say no! Two is what we could fit in at the moment and where we could create a template to potentially bring it back. There’s also an energy, like there was with the Follies production, when you have such a short season, a limited time to bring everything together, you can harness something really special that only exists over that weekend. It’s all about that energy that only happens once, that live moment of theatre that’s unique.
How will you manage rehearsals in a post pandemic structure?
Well we haven’t started yet, but the best thing about a show being set on a chess board is that it’s very easy to stay 1.5 metres apart. The play we are producing is a stylized version, without too many logistics and bringing props on and off the stage. The chess board itself is what sets up the relationships and power dynamics, it also means that should anything change before April we can still put on the show in a safe way.
I’ve found in my work this year and in all artistic pursuits, if you look at the parameters of what you can work in, you can work out how to create something within them. It’s a really interesting way to approach the creative process. I think in Australia we are leading the way with theatre reopening. Shows in London and New York can’t be performed so we are the first in figuring out a safe way to perform again.
You mentioned you’d been listening to Chess for a long time – is it a favourite musical of yours?
Chess has always been a favourite of mine. I love it because it belongs to a period of openheartedness in music. I think the world is becoming more and more cynical, and the openheartedness of this score is something we can return to. The boys from ABBA always wrote stirring and emotional music, both in the band and for the stage. The story of Chess has a different resonance now, it’s a highly political story about how people of prominence can be used for political gain. It was first performed in Australia in 1990 and I think that as a country we look at politics in a different way now and have a different relationship with political information. It’s about relationships and how if you play games with human relationships there are no winners. And of course, it’s the music, that’s what brings it all together and makes it so wonderful. We have a full 24-piece orchestra for this production, and it highlights that Chess is all about celebrating the music. I’ve listened to this music all my life and I can’t wait to hear it again in the rehearsal room.
How do you think the atmosphere of the theatre will change given social distancing?
Who knows what it will be like when we open in April. Some theatres can operate at 50% capacity while others are at 80%. Safety is important and it’s my job to the get the same people in the same space safely so that they can connect with those people up there on stage telling the story. It’s surprising how easily we’ve adapted to this new world, and I think that regardless of whether you have to sit a few seats apart from people, you’ll want to connect with the story and of course the music of Chess.
What are you most looking forward to about putting on this production?
The particular nuance of the cast. It’s not your usual suspects and it’s wonderful to hear the score in a contemporary way. I’ve researched every version of Chess over the years and I know a lot of the ghosts behind the songs. Staging it in the way we are means I can take pieces from previous productions and bring it together. What the audience will see is Chess the musical and they’ll hear the songs, but for us it’s about connecting to a really rich backstory and trying to connect in a really political world which will be lots of fun.
StoreyBoard Entertainment presents
CHESS THE MUSICAL
music by Björn Ulvaeus & Benny Andersson (ABBA), lyrics by Tim Rice & Björn Ulvaeus and book by Tim Rice
Director Tyran Parke
Waitlist for the Perth performances in June with the Perth Symphony Orchestra via www.chessmusical.info