Tuesday night, I went with a friend to see the musical, Chess, at Signature Theatre in Shirlington, a neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia. I was very excited, as I had never seen a performance of this musical, even though it has been my favorite for over a decade.
We arrived early and had a few drinks across the street at Busboys & Poets. Then we went to the theater, picked up our tickets, and awaited the start of the show. I only bought the tickets three days prior, so the seats weren’t the best. But they were still good seats. We were upstairs in what they call the dress circle. The 276-seat theatre was at maximum capacity. I only spotted two empty seats.
For those who don’t know anything about the show, Chess is a 1984 musical of Cold War competition in love and chess. It’s is mostly known for the song One Night in Bangkok, sung by Murray Head. Two years later, Whitney Houston covered the other popular song from the show, I Know Him So Well in a duet with her mother, Sissy Houston.
Before I begin my critique, I first must point out that I am partial to the London Cast recording of Chess. So knowing that this was based on the Broadway Cast recording, I had a keep an open mind.
I like how they start it off with the history of Florence when she is a mere child in Budapest in 1956 (“1956, Budapest is fighting. 1956 Budapest is falling.”) I somewhat miss the opening ceremony of Merano where merchants are selling anything and everything remotely related to chess.
With each scene and song, I notice alternate lyrics that are being used from the version I’m used to. They are fine, and actually help explain the storyline a little better.
There are several glaring omissions that leave the play, at least for me, somewhat lacking. The first, which really adds nothing to the story except comic relief, is Embassy Lament (“Oh my dear how boring, he’s defecting. Just like all the others, he’s expecting us to be impressed with what he’s done here. But he hasn’t stopped to think about the paperwork his gesture causes. We’ve an embassy to run here”)
Another scene not included was “The Deal.” But this is made up with other plot development throughout the second act.
What really saddened me was not including “The Story of Chess.” This song shows off vocal and lyric gymnastics all while giving the viewers and listeners a crash course in the game of chess. (“Each game of chess means there’s one less variation left to be played.”)
The cast was by and large outstanding. Euan Morton was amazing as Anatoly, the Russian and the ensemble was stellar. I am sad to say that Florence, played by Jill Paice, was only okay. I don’t think her voice was on par with the rest of the cast. That became evident during the I Know Him So Well duet with Svetlana’s Eleasha Gamble. Now that woman has some pipes on her.
All in all, it was a great evening. I would definitely recommend going to see this production. It runs through September 26th.