Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Alexander Lewis, Mark Furze, Paulini, Rob Mills, Eddie Muliaumaseali’i and Brittanie Shipway
Regent Theatre (Melbourne, Australia)
180 minutes (including 20 minute intermission)
Chess is one of the first musicals I fell in love with as a tiny pawn and the first I ever saw live. The love started with the vinyl album and the beautiful combination of pop superstars Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and musical genius Tim Rice. Then a family member won tickets to see Chess live and I was invited to go along. From memory I had a fantastic time getting all dressed up and going to see a favourite musical at the theatre, but in hindsight I think a lot of the intricacies of the relationships in Chess probably eluded me — in much the same way many adult themes in TV shows and movies fly over our heads as children.
This time around though I had a thorough understanding of what was happening in the story woven together with songs that still send a shiver down my spine 23 years later. And there is a lot going on — a love triangle, professional betrayals, unprofessional tantrums, deep and troubled character backstories, defection, politics and that’s even before you get to the titular game itself!
Florence is my favourite character in Chess, closely followed by Anatoly, and I thought Natalie Bassingthwaighte gave a remarkable performance. Her vocals are strong while still portraying the vulnerability of the character.
Alexander Lewis and Mark Furze excelled both in vocals and portrayals for Anatoly and Freddy respectively.
Personally I feel that those three characters are incredibly difficult to portray well. Not only do they all have great depth and significant struggles throughout the plot, but they are the three central characters and they all have traits that could make them thoroughly unlikeable and unsympathetic in the wrong hands.
Paulini carries the role of Svetlana with grace and dignity that rightly befits a Soviet defector’s estranged wife fighting for her family’s well-being. See? So many layers to this story I just … chills.
The rest of the cast were incredible and gave wonderful performances. The ensemble cast flowed so well between the name characters throughout the performance and the choir added a glorious depth to the vocals when required.
I loved — LOVED — the set design. It is simple yet so effective and literally makes the chess the stage upon which all of the drama is set.
I did overhear during intermission and after the show, that some of the other audience members didn’t really understand what was going on in terms of the story. So my advice for anyone unfamiliar with the show is to make sure you listen to the lyrics with the same intensity you do the dialogue. Unlike some musicals where the songs are magical icing on the plot cake, much of the story in Chess is progressed through the songs.
All in all this production is a delightful rendition of what is, in my humble opinion, a devastatingly underrated show. If you love the show then grab this opportunity to see it produced well live.