Chess – the Musical
I appeared in Chess with Bromley Players in 2012.
Rights Holders- Samuel French
Genre – Pop/rock musical
Cast Size – 20-40
Principles – 2M 1F
Supporting – 3M 1F
Band – 25(!) however we used 10
Costume – mostly straightforward
Set – Not essential
Technical – Simple but effective is the way forward.
This story is politically driven set during the Cold War and focuses on the battle between 2 chess players – an American grandmaster and a Soviet grandmaster.Of course there is a woman involved – who manages one and falls in love with the other. This is one of the few musicals that you are allowed to alter the order of numbers and setting, for example a song called Nobody’s Side sung by Svetlana, which was not included in the original concept album can be added if you wish.
This show predominantly focuses on the 2 men- The Russian & The American. The society therefore has to have 2 men that can carry the show. The American in particular is a very high tenor role. There is also 3 supporting roles for men including the Arbiter which can be portrayed in a variety of ways. There are 2 roles for women – the larger role of which, Florence, requires a powerhouse of a voice.
There is a fair amount to do for the ensemble in this production. You must have a strong choral ability to be able to pull this show off. This is also a great numbers for the dancers with everything from ballet, cheerleading and in our production a street dance number for the Arbiters number. It was a show I went into thinking this is one for the singers and really loved the dance aspect to it.
This is a set which is open to interpretation. The production I was in used projections a lot to help set the scene but those performing in larger venues (and bigger budgets) can have a large set should they wish.
Most of the costumes in this production is relatively straightforward due to its setting in the Cold War. Cheerleader costumes are required for one number and for the ballet sequences depicting the chess games costumes are required to depict the Chess pieces. In Bromley Players production we simply used black and white dresses to depict this.
Due to the song of this show you do need good sound facilities to produce this show. Lighting wise there is no need for moving lights and the like however if going with a minimal set a good lighting designer would be needed for this. Our lighting designer in particular was able to project a chess board onto the stage floor.
This is written for a band of 25 which for many amateur groups result in a large intake of breath however the rights allow you the freedom to rescore the piece for less. Bromley Players therefore reduced the band size to 10.
As touched on above you need a talented musical director to pull this production off. Reducing the score took blood, sweat and tears from the M.D we worked with, this coupled with the tricky choral singing means that the M.D must be practically a miracle worker! The director must also have a great creative vision. The back story for the younger generation is unfamiliar and the director has to be able to get the story across. The choreographer must be able to choreograph ballet as well as confident with many other styles.
Bums on Seats:
This show is a hard sell to the younger generation. The title itself does not inspire those considering buying tickets however when you drop in some of the song titles such as Anthem or I Know Him So Well you may well get more of a reaction.
If your society is looking to challenge their singers as well as give variety for the dancers then this could potentially be a good choice of a show. Whilst the show may be one of the more difficult ones to sell it is not an expensive show to put on, with the main expense being the band and is therefore possible to potentially break even without having to sell a to high percentage of tickets. I would suggest that if thinking about doing this show, you don’t do it straight after (or before) another male principle heavy show.