Chess, The Musical Finally Opens In Moscow
A scene from the musical "Chess" in Moscow. Photo: Moscow Broadway.

Chess, The Musical Finally Opens In Moscow

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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58 | Misc

The 1980s musical "Chess," with a storyline set around a Cold War-era chess event and with music by ABBA's Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, is world-famous. Somehow, it was never performed in Moscow—until last Saturday night.

The musical opened on Saturday evening, October 17, in Moscow's MDM Theatre in the Russian capital's central Khamovniki District. With a capacity of 1,800 seats, the theater was full. (Wearing face masks is strongly recommended nowadays in Moscow but only about half of the people did so.)

The red-carpet event saw politicians, business luminaries, and other VIPs mixed with chess grandmasters, including GM Anatoly Karpov, GM Sergey Karjakin, and GM Alexandra Kosteniuk.

Anatoly Karpov musical chess Moscow
Karpov came on stage after the opening show. Photo: Moscow Broadway.

The story of the musical tells about a chess match in which an American grandmaster and a Soviet-Russian grandmaster fight over the same woman, who manages one and falls in love with the other. It can be seen as a metaphor for the Cold War.

The American is named Freddie Trumper, a character loosely based on GM Bobby Fischer (and certainly not on the current U.S. president!) while the Russian player has certain elements of GM Viktor Korchnoi and... Karpov.

The musical originally premiered in London's West End in 1986 (where it was revived in 2018), after the concept album had come out in 1984. The song "One Night In Bangkok" became a worldwide hit in 1985.


"One Night in Bangkok" with Murray Head (verses) and Anders Glenmark (chorus).

While the music was famously brought by ABBA's Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, the original lyrics are by Ulvaeus and Tim Rice. They were translated into Russian by Alexei Ivaschenko.

According to Kosteniuk, one of the attendees of the opening night, it is not surprising that it took such a long time before the musical could finally be seen in Russia. In her blog, she writes:

"Since the whole plot is built around the confrontation between two powers—the USSR and the USA—it is not surprising that in the Soviet Union the premiere of the musical was met with disapproval, and its songs were banned for a long time."


The trailer for the Russian production.

For the Russian chess fans, she recommends seeing it: "I really hope that you will have the opportunity to go to this musical and see with your own eyes what they write and talk about so vividly. As with any production, one can argue about it for a long time. The performance will touch some more than others, but it is absolutely certain that it is very worthwhile to visit at least once and plunge into this complex world of intrigue, games, and gossip, where, in the end, victory remains on the side of chess."

Chess musical Moscow
A scene from the musical "Chess" in Moscow. Photo: Moscow Broadway.

The Russian production was created by a team of top Russian creatives, including the Artistic Director of the Moscow Pushkin Drama Theatre Evgeny Pisarev, Musical Director John Rigby, and the Producer Dmitry Bogachev, who previously produced musicals like Anastasia, The Phantom of the Opera, Mamma Mia!, and Chicago.

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