Chess the Musical, Music: Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, Lyrics: Tim Rice, The Production Company, The Arts Centre, Until August 26.
The musical Chess has a performance history more like chequers. It did well on the West End only to flop on Broadway. Commercial Australian productions haven’t been wildly successful, either. Still, the soundtrack spawned two hit singles.
Composed by the talents behind ABBA, the show’s music roves far and wide – synth pop, orchestral chorus numbers, soaring love duets. Despite the absurdities of its plot, the musical is regularly revived in both concert and full dress productions.
This swift and entertaining version from The Production Company boasts brilliant singing from some of our best musical theatre performers, slick choreography and a large onstage orchestra.
Gale Edwards’ elegant direction moves all the pieces around the board with the assurance and taste for display of a Romantic era chess game.
Simon Gleeson, fresh from playing Raoul in Love Never Dies, thrills as the tortured Russian grandmaster at the centre of the action. It’s an effortlessly charismatic performance and his singing is strong and pure, especially impressive in the difficult to master ‘Anthem’, the song of loyalty and defection that closes out the first act.
Silvie Paladino as Florence delights with her presence and vocal skill throughout, releasing the full force of her voice in emotive solo numbers; modestly tailoring it to the demands of the show’s duets and quartets (‘I Know Him So Well’, opposite Alinta Chidzey, is a highlight).
I was less struck by Martin Crewes in the “Bobby Fischer” part. Supporting roles include Michael Falzon’s glamorous Arbiter; Bert Labonte and Martin Dickinson as CIA and KGB agents.
While there’s some inevitable silliness, the neon chessboard stage yields visual surprises, including a circus performer’s muscular tissu routine during the intro to ‘One Night in Bangkok’. There’s hardly a dead moment. If you’ve never seen Chess performed live, it’s highly recommended.