Master Theatre Playbill

The Artist's Perspective at
The Master Theatre, New York

February, 1992
The Artist's Perspective
in association with
Chess Players, Ltd.
Music by Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus
Book and Lyrics by Tim Rice

Scenic Design by Tony Castrigno
Lighting Design by John Hastings
Creative Design by Deborah Rooney
Production Stage Manager Doug Fogel
Assistant Director/Choreographer Madeline Paul
Musical Supervision & Direction by Phil Reno
Directed by David Taylor

Florence.................Kathleen Rowe McAllen
Anatoly Sergievsky.......J. Mark McVey
Frederick Trumper........Patrick Jude
Svetlana Sergievsky......Jan Horvath
Alexander Molokov.........Bob Frisch
Ensemble: Mark Ankeny, Michael Gerhart, Mary Illes, David Koch, Nita Moore, Ric Ryder, Carol Schuberg, Rebecca Timms

Merano.................Arbiter, Freddie, Ensemble
What a Scene, What a Joy...Freddie
Where I Want to Be......Anatoly
How Many Women..........Florence, Freddie
US vs, USSR.............Ensemble
The Arbiter's Song......Arbiter, Ensemble
Chess Game #1...........Orchestra
A Model of Decorum and Tranquility...Molokov, Florence, Arbiter, Anatoly
Chess Hymn..............Ensemble
Someone Else's Story....Svetlana
Nobody's on Nobody's Side.....Florence
The Merchandiser's Song.......Freddie, Ensemble
Mountain Top Duet..........Florence, Anatoly
Who'd Ever Guess It?......Freddie
Chess Game #2........Orchestra
Florence Quits.......Freddie, Florence
Pity the Child.......Freddie
Where I Want to Be (reprise)...Anatoly, Florence

Florence and Anatoly

One Night in Bangkok......Freddie, Ensemble
Heaven Help My Heart......Florence
Argument..................Florence, Anatoly
The Confrontation.........Anatoly, Molokov, Svetlana
No Contest................Anatoly, Freddie
I Know Him So Well........Florence, Svetlana
The Deal..................The Company
Endgame...................The Company
You and I (reprise)/Epilogue...Florence, Anatoly

The orchestra (three keyboards, drums and reeds) begins with a brief bit of the music from "Endgame." The Arbiter announces the match and its players. The citizens of Merano prepare for the arrival of its stellar guests. American champ Freddie Trumper sneers at the media. Molokov and Anatoly discuss Freddie's behavior, with Svetlana commenting. They leave Anatoly to mull over the course his life has taken. Meanwhile, in Freddie and Florence's room, an argument escalates as Florence believes she isn't appreciated.

The Russians are at odds with the Americans, and the first match ends in chaos, resulting in the Arbiter, Molokov, Anatoly and Florence trying to figure out what's important here. Florence becomes ever more disenchanted with Freddie and wonders why she remains loyal. As she becomes more critical, so does he and they reach an impasse. The sponsors of the match stage a show of their wares in the hotel lobby, while Florence and Anatoly meet on the mountain, and fall in love. Freddie, late for the meeting, finds them in each other's arms and realizes his relationship with Florence is over. He compares her betrayal to his abusive childhood. The match is Anatoly 5 games, Freddie 2 after the 11th game ends in a draw. Freddie blames Florence for his failure on the board. He resigns the match, making Anatoly world chess champion. Anatoly defects, wanting both freedom and Florence.

The second act prologue is a bit of the opening music from the Broadway version, followed by the Arbiter singing the first verse of "The Story of Chess." He announces the new match in Bangkok, one year later. Freddie tours the Bangkok fleshpots [the program mistakenly lists the Arbiter as singing this song]. Florence muses over her year with Anatoly, but their happiness degenerates into argument when she learns on the TV that both Molokov and Svetlana are in Bangkok. Anatoly undergoes the final humiliation when Freddie confronts him on live TV and asks difficult questions. Then he confronts his wife who accuses, "being neutral's just your line." Freddie tells Anatoly that he doesn't have the "stuff" anymore, while Florence and Svetlana (on adjacent hotel balconies) each think the other would be better for Anatoly. "The Deal" consists of everyone threatening everyone else. It seems Freddie and Anatoly are again meeting over the chessboard. Anatoly gives up Florence and the result of the final game of the match is not revealed.

This is "Chess Lite" for a cast of 14 and a five-piece orchestra. Walter is omitted and Svetlana is in Merano from the beginning (though she appears briefly in only one scene). It is based on the London version of the script with a great deal of cuts and a few new lyrics. Tim Rice, aware of the wildly divergent versions playing all over the U.S., put this version together for smaller theatres, hoping to supplant the Nelson book with something based on his original script. The story is set in 1972, and London's locations--Merano and Bangkok--are retained, as are the basic musical arrangements. There is little chess and less politics in this version. In cutting the story to basically just the main characters, the outside influences are minimized and thus their motivations are far less clear. The second act is more like a concert version, with none of London's linking scenes explaining what's going on.

The Sydney version used "One Night in Bankgok" as a musical through-line. This version uses "Where I Want to Be" in numerous reprises for each character. With Walter absent from the story, Molokov becomes a more minor character--oddly--since the KBG would have been a much more dominant presence in 1972.

This author attended the 1972 World Figure Skating Championships in Calgary, Alberta Canada, and whenever anyone, including officials, spoke to any Russian participant, there were instantly a phalanx of KGB "minders" who hustled the Soviet citizen away. They were chaperoned even in their own hotel rooms and at all practice sessions. Literally no one was allowed near them. One presumes the same would have been true of Soviet participants at a world class chess event.

It's very unclear what Freddie's role is in this act as he has a scene from London where he's a TV commentator, and yet he plays Anatoly in the final game. Every mention of Florence's father has been excised. "Endgame" seems to have little relation to the rest of the act--since the other characters haven't asked nearly as much of Anatoly as in other versions. And, no one wins. The game ends with Freddie and Anatoly at five games each, one short of the championship. The real emotional wrench of him leaving the woman he loves and losing his freedom because it thinks it will reunite Florence with her long-lost father is sadly missing. There seems no explanation as to why Anatoly leaves Florence, particularly since they both still love each other. After they part, a final game is started and we never learn the result.

Rice wrote an insert to the program explaining how he came to put this version together. Many people since have quoted him as calling this the "definitive" version. It isn't, wasn't and Rice doesn't even have a copy of the script. A dozen Chess fans who saw it called it everything from "godawful" to "incomprehensible." Rice may have attempted a "definitive" version at this time, but that isn't really what he says:

"The history of Chess the musical has become far more complicated than any of the storylines in its many different productions. Of all the musicals for which I have written lyrics and/or book, Chess has caused me the most professional, personal and financial anguish, but has also enabled me to work with some of the most outstanding music any composer has entrusted to me. Chess has had great highs and ghastly lows, but it will not go away.

"Around 1980, I conceived the idea of a musical set consisting of a love story against the backdrop of an American-Soviet world chess championship match, such as that played by Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in Iceland in 1972. I approached several composers but no great interest was sparked until I met the Swedish writers and performers Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson in late 1981. They told me at the time that the geographical position of their country gave them a particular interest in the East-West confrontation. The Cold War was of course still in full swing, so to speak.

"In 1981, Björn and Benny were still part of the amazingly successful rock quartet ABBA, for whom they wrote and performed dozens of hit songs. Worldwide they were the biggest selling recording act of their time, only in the United States (where they had several hits) being less than a phenomenon. I was involved in another show in London so it was not until 1983 that we really got going with our joint venture - with a research visit to Moscow. We decided to launch Chess on record and began recording the work in early 1984. The finished album was released at the end of the year on RCA records. We promoted the release in Europe with concerts in five major cities, featuring the full forces of the recording - symphony orchestra, rock band, classical and rock chorus and the soloists Elaine Paige (Florence), Tommy Körberg (Anatoly) and Murray Head (Freddie). Throughout the next twelve months, the album was a best-seller in Europe with two songs, "I Know Him So Well" and "One Night in Bangkok", number one singles in many territories. The album came out in America in early 1985, sold more than respectably and "One Night In Bangkok" became a substantial hit on the pop charts.

"So far, so good. The problems began with the efforts to transfer the work to stage. The record's success attracted armies of producers and directors. Among the most distinguished was the Shubert Organisation in the former category and Michael Bennett in the latter and it was with this combination plus the Robert Fox Organisation as co-producers that our company Three Knights Ltd. began to prepare for a London stage presentation for the summer of 1986.

"A considerable amount of rewriting and expansion of the recorded version took place under the guidance of Michael Bennett, vast amounts of money were spent on sets, costumes and assorted technology, a huge cast was assembled, but all was thrown into tragic confusion when the director was forced to withdraw as a result of ill health just before rehearsals began. The entire production was nearly aborted but saved at the last minute when Trevor Nunn agreed to take over the troubled ship. Nunn did a magnificent job in enabling the show to open on schedule and although we were all aware that the eleventh-hour crisis had resulted in a show that was not totally one director's clear concept, the production was by and large well-received and ran for three years at the Prince Edward Theatre. We were particularly fortunate to have Elaine Paige, Tommy Körberg and Murray Head repeating their record roles in the stage version. It was ludicrously expensive (well over 4.3 million pounds sterling) but the London investors eventually (just) got their money back.

"As we knew that the London show was too confused and too costly to recreate on Broadway we looked upon the prospect of a production in New York as a chance to start again with what we, perhaps arrogantly, felt was an outstanding score that had to date not been given the breaks it deserved. More and drastic re-writing took place. A new book by American playwright Richard Nelson was added to the score, and the piece now gained a great deal of spoken dialogue compared with the London and record versions which were virtually sung through.

"I can only say that we got it wrong for Broadway. There was much to admire in the production, most notable an outstanding cast headed by Judy Kuhn, David Carroll and Philip Casnoff. However, the length of the work, the elements of rock music in the score and the serious problem that the story, set in "the present time", became more outdated by the minute as the Soviet empire collapsed and the Cold War thawed, alienated most critics. By beefing up the political elements in the story we inevitably weakened the human elements and drifted away from the original intent of the piece. There were two interesting works struggling to escape from one show. As it was we fell between the two stools of what might have been a fascinating play by Nelson or an original musical by Andersson, Rice and Ulvaeus. Although we played to good houses for eight weeks in early 1988, the confidence of the producers in an extended run was low and after virtual total rejection by the Tony Awards committee it was decided that we should cut our losses and close.

"Despite this high-profile financial failure, interest in Chess remained high. A concert in Carnegie Hall by the Broadway cast was ecstatically received. Many different productions, professional and amateur, were launched in the United States, with varying degrees of success. An Australian version, directed by Jim Sharman, played in Sydney for six months. A tour of the United Kingdom ran for two years. There were many concerts and productions in Scandinavia which invariably pulled huge crowds and critical approval. As I write, a major production in New Zealand is about to open (starring Murray Head and Tommy Körberg) and further 1992 openings include Germany and Hungary.

"The only problem about this continuing enthusiasm around the globe was that no two versions of the show and of the story were the same. Some were based on the Broadway version, some on the London and some were hybrids. Many were very confused. When the Artists' Perspective approached me in early 1991 about a new production for New York City I was happy to agree on the condition that I could rework the show for such an important theatrical city, in the hope of establishing a definitive final version for all future productions.

"Only time will tell if I have been successful in this aim but with the invaluable assistance of this production's director, David Taylor, I have made important changes to Chess which have addressed the principal problems that troubled previous incarnations of the script. The political background to the tale is made totally plausible by setting the action in 1972 and I have restored full musical status to the work, as originally envisaged when we began writing nearly ten years ago. Whatever the future of this production or of Chess in general, it has been an enormous pleasure for me to work with the Artists' Perspective and I thank the entire company, off-stage and on, for their enthusiasm and talent."

This presentation was not a success and the entity which produced it dissolved after the show closed.

© 2001, 2018 Sylvia Stoddard