CHESS THE MUSICAL at Perth Concert Hall
StoreyBoard Entertainment has gone big with its production of CHESS THE MUSICAL. It’s a great cast giving great performances in a great setting, and supported by an orchestra and choir, the whole performance comes together to be an awesome production. While the stage itself is quite small, the creative team made the performances really pop, really letting the emotion behind the stories shine through.
While it’s easy to start with the awesome cast that is at the center of this performance, what really makes this show is the creative team. Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA Fame created the concept album CHESS as an outlet for their ideas that didn’t necessarily fit the band. The album (released before the musical) topped the charts and was praised at the time for its many layers and impressive sounds. Music Director David Piper has spent a lot of time recreating the original sounds and intent of the album for a score that goes from powerful ballads to classic Broadway styles to 80s synth pop and it all works perfectly. Having been designed in the studios used by ABBA, the original album looks a lot like ABBA and it has been reproduced as faithfully as possible. The 26 musicians of the Perth Symphony Orchestra, led by renowned Perth conductor Craig Dalton, have done perfectly. While the Perth Symphony Orchestra playing an Anderson / Ulvaeus score in the Perth Concert Hall would be an experience in itself, it provides perfect support for CHESS THE MUSICAL, and the orchestra’s position – near and around from the stage – brings an impressive atmosphere to the performance.
Director Tyran Parke and set designer Dann Barber used a deceptively simple layout for the scene itself. Four large chess pieces serve as different sets throughout the show, with a few chairs and a chessboard are the only other props used on the small chessboard-style stage. At first, the setup seems minimalist, and one wonders how it can convey the different scenes throughout the show. However, by reimagining the story (as producer Adrian Storey was looking for before he started production), the set was stripped down, and it works great here. With so little on stage, it took extra creative work to convey the show’s themes and ideas. Dann Barber doubled down on the costume design, and again with a pretty straightforward premise – all costumes are shades of white, black, or red – the costumes help convey the changes and differences that occur over time. as the show progresses. Lighting designer Gavan Swift also helps bring an extra dimension to the show. Shadows dance along the walls during in-game scenes, and it’s always clear who the focus is on (even in multi-layered scenes and songs), while simple changes from light to dark make it clear what the focus is. emotions of every scene where the story cannot fully describe it. Credit also has to go to choreographer Freya List, who uses the small ensemble well to direct the show and add to the relatively small cast. The ensemble is used in dance pieces even when the focus is on the two lead actors in a smart and creative way that really adds depth and intrigue in multiple parts of the show.
While the creative work is mind blowing, the cast of big names is equally impressive. Natalie Bassingthwaite is an excellent and complex Florence Vassy. Bassingthwaite is well known as an actor and singer, and both skill sets are showcased in CHESS THE MUSICAL. Likewise, Paulini’s skills as a singer and artist are unmistakable. She only started acting in the last few years, but you have to think from this performance that she has a lot more ahead of her. It is an absolute treat and a highlight of the night to see the two great ladies
duet for ‘I Know Him So Well’, perhaps the most famous song in the series. Mark Furze perfectly plays all sides of the volatile Freddie Trumper, while Alexander lewis is a superb Anatoly Sergievsky. Lewis rose to fame in musicals and opera and shows both skill sets in this role. Versatile Rob mills is an excellent Walter De Courcey, the manipulative TV producer, in another impressive role to add to his CV, and one can hardly miss Eddie Muliaumaseali’I as Molokov. His thunderous voice suits Molokov’s accomplice perfectly, while his sung parts were almost made for the concert hall. The Arbiter has traditionally been played by men (and has only recently expanded to become a larger part of the series), but proud First Nations woman Brittanie Shipway wears it perfectly, with her pragmatic character. which perfectly complements the other main roles as they try to push their agendas. The eight-person ensemble also looks great here. With limited time off the stage (they spend much of the show off the elevated stage but still very visible) they really keep the energy in and set the mood for the show.
CHESS THE MUSICAL is well known for its hard to follow story. Director Tyran Parke deliberately scaled it down, and while what remains of the Cold War allegory behind the narrative may not translate well for contemporary audiences, the central engines are still there, and the show is performed. so that the motivations behind are no longer important. What the show lacks in the story is more than made up for its superb staging, costumes and lighting, a brilliant orchestra (backed up by an impressive chorus), and that’s before it even gets to the powerful performances of the well-known actors. There are many distinct parts of CHESS THE MUSICAL that would be worth seeing individually, and they are perfectly combined in this must-see show.
CHESS THE MUSICAL is at the Perth Concert Hall until June 5 before moving to Brisbane from June 8-10. Tickets and more on Chess The Musical Australia.
All photos courtesy of Jeff Busby.