74 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2009
I love Broadway musicals. I love them in their original form. I winced when the changed the lyrics in Oklahoma and deleted songs in The King And I for the sake of movie audiences. Don't mess with the original, that's my creed.
I have to find a new creed. This concert version of Chess messed with the lyrics, added songs, moved songs and changed the plot of one of my favorite musicals of all times. And I'm thrilled. It was a masterful retelling of the original story. Almost every change, every expansion, every redirection helped the story. My one minor quibble was that they sang *Endgame* before the game was over. But that was minor. The filler, the backstory, even the moving *The Story of Chess* to the beginning of the show were all moves that were beneficial to the show.
Chess has always been a bit of a Broadway oddity, with it's unconventional plot and occasional oddly arhthmic song. It is hard to understand unless you read the synopsis carefully. It's dated too, being a product of the Cold War. But those problems were swept away by the masterful rewrites and edits. Yeah, I missed a favorite line or two, but the ones that replaced them were just as good, probably better than the originals.
And no doubt they brought the top talent to this piece. Groban and Menzel nailed every note and sang with emotion and lungpower. Adding a bit more grist for the Soviet wife and inventing the role of the Broadcaster were not just filler. They were sweetners. I knew the musical back to front, but now, I understand it better. If you are a fan of Chess or of Brodway at its best, I recommend this in my most enthusiastic terms. If you can watch it without tears, you are a better man than me.
101 of 112 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2009
Four items make this a must-have. The first is Josh Groban singing the classic "Anthem", where, as the Russian chess champion, Anatoly, he avows his love for his homeland. As Anatoly's discarded wife, Svetlana, the amazing Kerry Ellis totally nails "Someone Else's Story." There's "The Story of Chess", where the Chorus perform Tim Rice's witty take on the evolution of the game. Finally, the Quartet, where Florence (Idina Menzel), Anatoly, his minder Molokov and the Arbiter deplore how chess has sunk from "a model of decorum and tranquillity" to "a battleground for rival ideologies to slug it out with glee."
Having seen the original London West End production in 1986 with Elaine Paige, I was lucky enough to witness this superb 21st Anniversary production in the Royal Albert Hall, London, last year. Tim Rice has tightened up the plot of love and betrayal played out in the setting of chess championships in the Cold War. Florence, who manages the American champion, falls for the Russian; complications - political, ethical, personal - ensue. From the moment the outstanding Chorus bursts into "Merano" - blending chess with commercialism as a tiny Central European town prepares to welcome the world - right to the devastating "Endgame" and final twist, the dramatic pace never lets up.
In this DVD, hopefully the sound difficulties of this production will have been ironed out. As to the cast - they were fantastic!! Groban is a revelation: a brilliant actor as well as singer. Kerry Ellis was a showstopper. As Florence, Idina Menzel, (so good in Wicked (2003 Original Broadway Cast), was too strident for my taste, lacking subtlety and roundness in acting. ("Heaven Help My Heart" doesn't register, and "Nobody's Side" pales away.) However, her "You and I" with Groban still tugs the heartstrings: "we go on pretending / Stories like ours Have happy endings."
The wonderful David Bedella (Jerry Springer: the Opera), makes a great, sinister Molokov. And Adam Pascal gives his charismatic ALL as Freddy, the tormented American bearing luggage from the past: "Pity the Child." Marti Pellow (of pop group Wet Wet Wet) was a disappointment as the Arbiter, a little under-performed I felt.
Rice's lyrics are trenchant, tender, intelligent, witty. The music, by Benny and Bjorn of ABBA, is a perfect rock score, conveying all the emotions and tensions necessary and fully matching the lyrics.
In the main, this is a superb production of a classic and underestimated musical.
40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2009
I've heard of "Chess" but never got around to seeing a live production or listening to a soundtrack. As an ABBA fan I was always curious what kind of musical Benny and Bjorn would produce since their ABBA pop-rock tunes were so incredible. Then PBS announced a special concert version of "Chess" featuring Josh Groban, Idina Menzel and Adam Pascal. So I watched it....
Wow! "Chess In Concert" really looked and sounded impressive. The only thing was I had trouble with the diction. I had to put the captions on to truly understand what was happening on stage. Once I got to view the lyrics with the vocals I was very impressed and kinda blown away by it all.
I'm not a "Grobanite" but I have to admit that Josh Groban (Anatoly) did a good job both vocally and dramatically. Adam Pascal (Frederick) never disappoints me. I could listen to his raspy rock voice all day long. Same with Idina Menzel (Florence). No, I'm not a "Grobanite" but this "Renthead" was very pleased to see the original Maureen and Roger share the stage again.
I also liked Kerry Ellis as Anatoly's wife, Svetlana. Ellis has a really neat voice that seems to be very sweet but with a touch of edginess (and what an irony that both Menzel and Ellis played the role of Elphaba in "Wicked"). The cast had a nice mix of classical operatic voices and rock opera wailers. The score is the same way with a blending of ballads, anthems, and toe tapping dance tracks.
Aside from the lavish staging (including a huge on-stage orchestra and a small army of choir singers), the powerful vocals and the dramatic score the story of "Chess In Concert" was easier to follow than I thought it would be. It's your basic love triangle scenario with Frederick losing his partner, Florence, to Anatoly except that Anatoly is already married with kids. Then things get more complicated because of politics, greed and chess tournaments.
Overall, even if you don't buy "Chess In Concert" then you should at least rent this or catch it on public television because this is a sensational performance by a large assortment of talented singers and dancers. One way you can identify a good musical is if you're caught humming the tunes after the show is done. I've got at least five on my mental IPOD as we speak (The Arbiter, Nobody's On Nobody's Side, Pity The Child, One Night In Bangkok, I Know Him So Well). "Chess In Concert" is good.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2009
I have been a fan of Chess since I was lucky enough to perform in the chorus of a concert version in the 80s. It's a musical that never caught on as a stage version, but has had life in various concert versions in Europe and the U.S. I'm so glad that Tim Rice, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus never gave up on this piece. As Tim Rice says in the intro, this time they finally got it right. The story is enhanced and tightened for post-Cold war audiences, and the traditional concert version showcases the chorus and orchestra but adds just enough staging, dance and costuming to make a compelling and moving production.
The highlight (and surprise!) of this production is Josh Groban. I've never been a fan of his classic-pop singing, but in this production, he displays a much wider range of acting and even singing ability. The score requires him to use a wide vocal and dramatic range and he makes the most of every second, especially the powerful "Anthem," which brings down the house and deserves to become a musical theater classic. Kerry Ellis is stunning in the relatively small part of Svetlana, and Adam Paschal makes one of the most difficult roles in musical theater look easy. His big number, "Pity the Child," is often called "Pity the Singer" because of its difficulty, yet he pounds it out with ease and dramatic gusto. Although others have found Idina Menzel's performance irritating at times (and I admit, her voice could cut through glass), she acts the role of Florence with complexity and has much more subtlety in her voice than many give her credit for.
Do this show a favor and spend some time with it. It has much more meat than most musical theater and will give you pleasure on every viewing.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2009
I watched "Chess in Concert" last night as PBS featured it on "Great Performances." I imiagine that I will now have to purchase both the DVD (Since I don't imagine it will ever be turned into a regular feature film) and the CD, which will be the third different version in my collection.
I fell in love with the show when I first heard the original concept album with Murray Head, Elaine Paige and others back in 1984 when it was first released, and it is still the version I listen to most. I saw the original Broadway cast featuring David Carroll and Judy Kuhn in one of its 48 performances at the Imperial Theater in NYC. That production was very underrated and should have run much longer, but it was the same season that NYC got "The Phantom of the Opera" which swept the Tony Awards. When David Carroll sang "Anthem" to end Act I, he had the audience out of their seats cheering and applauding even before the song was finished, something I only saw one other time (Jennifer Holliday's "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from "Dreamgirls"). I also saw a nice production of it by the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera in the 90s. One can only imagine what it would have been like had Michael Bennett not become ill and having to withdraw from staging it...Trevor Nunn did it instead.
Which brings us to this version of "Chess in Concert." As Tim Rice explains at the beginning, it has been a work-in-progress, and they have tightened up the book quite a bit, keeping the best of the songs on both of the CDs I do have. The plotlines regarding Global TV were not there originally which give the character of Freddy more to do in Act II. However, the Broadway version had a slightly different ending regarding the Soviets' release of Florence's father who supposedly had been imprsoned since the 1956 Hungarian uprising--they gave her an old man who turned out not to be her dad at all. This version leaves it up in the air at the end.
There have now been reprises put in which were not there at first, as well as a couple of new songs I previously did not know. The performances here are quite fine, with Idina Menzel being the standout as Florence. Her character now has the weight of that of Anatoly, which makes the romance between them more plausible. Josh Groban as Anatoly does well in his acting debut, and Adam Pascal is good as well.
And the staging of some of the big numbers ("The Story of Chess," "The Merchandisers," and "Bangkok/One Night in Bangkok") is excellent, given the concert setting, using the choir and dancers effectively.
Anyone who is into this show will want to purchase the DVD for their collection, as well as the audio CD.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2010
What do you get when you take several of the most gifted singer/actors in the world and have them sing one of the most beautiful scores ever written in concert at the Royal Albert Hall? This wonderful version of Chess in concert. Grobin, Menzel, Pascall and cast are stellar. I use this dvd in class to teach my singer/actors how to stage, how to sell a song, and simply as excellent entertainment. This is a must have for anyone who loves musical theatre.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2009
If you love the show Chess with its great musical score and wish it would come back to Broadway, this is for you! There are a bunch of new songs as well as the classics from the original show. Josh Groban, Idina Menzel and Adam Pascal are fantastic! This is absolute 'must buy' for all the Chess lovers out there!!!
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2009
The 2008 production of "Chess in Concert" is a masterpiece in my view. Moreover, it contains my favorite score of music ever composed for the stage. For someone like me who loved the original production back in 1984, it's like an old friend coming back to life. No, we don't have the sexy little blonde, Elaine Paige, to hit all the high notes with ease but we have a lot of other things.
Anyone who views the storyline of "Chess" as trivial is simply wrong. I remember back in 1972, when Bobby Fischer beat the Russians and the chess world was sent tumbling. Even a person with no interest in chess could sense how the Soviet mystique was shattered.
16 years later, the USSR collapsed and the West had won the cold war. Bobby Fischer may have flipped out later on and embarrassed himself but he did his part in helping mankind survive. In January, 2008, he died in Reykjavik, Iceland, the place where he won his world title. Rest in peace, Bobby.
Back on "Chess in Concert," Tim Rice says "after 25 years we may finally be getting it right." My wife and I agree. What Sir Tim and his collaborators have given us are 2 ½ hours of one great song after another, joined to a now-coherent story, and beautiful visual effects. It all builds to a stirring conclusion that surpassed all our expectations.
The show has everything--drama, humor, dance, visuals, music, and some of the best lyrics anywhere. If critics continue to say that it's too cerebral that's their problem. I think I know when something's good and this is very good indeed.
Which songs do we love most? Are they the lively ones, like "One Night in Bangkok?" "The Arbiter?" Or, the playful witty pieces like "Merano?" "The Diplomats Lament?" "The Merchandisers?" "A Model of Decorum and Tranquility?"
Then what about the moving ballads? "Where I Want to Be?" "Heaven Help My Heart?" "Anatoly's Anthem?" "I Know Him So Well?" "Someone Else's Story?" "You and I?"
Even the rough-edged numbers like, "Nobody's Side," "Difficult and Dangerous Times," and "Pity the Child" are dramatic and memorable. Pick a favorite or high point? You make the call. I certainly can't. There's so much here that the uninitiated might want to view Act 1 the first night and save Act 2 for another time.
Comparing this cast and performances to those of 25 years ago is not easy. There still is a lot to recommend the 1984 cast and staging. Nevertheless, the new version has Josh Groban; he is a marvel in his role as Anatoly, the defecting Russian. The range and power of Josh's voice are well-suited to his part.
Did Idina Menzel make us forget Elaine Paige? Maybe not. But Idina has a big voice, too, and fine stage presence. To me, she holds her own in the comparison. My wife and I see the role of Florence as key to the whole show. Idina carries it off beautifully.
Well into Act 2, Kerry Ellis appears as Anatoly's estranged wife Svetlana and almost steals the show. Her rendition of "Someone Else's Story" is as moving a song on lost love as we've ever heard. Later on, Kerry sings a duet with Idina in "I Know Him So Well." Would someone help me to my feet?
There are several other cast members worthy of note, including Adam Pascal as Freddie, the American champion; Clarke Peters as Walter, the West's impressario; David Bedella, as Molokov, the Russian head man; and Marti Fellow, as the Arbiter. They all turn in fine performances.
We also have the western diplomats, the marvelous dancers, the 50-piece orchestra, and the 100-person choir. Masterful coordination is done by the director, Hugh Wooldridge and David Firman, the conductor. Yes, Sir Tim, you've got it right.
At 2 hours and 15 minutes into the program, my wife and I were exhausted. (Who knows how the cast was able to keep going?) I couldn't imagine musical theater getting any better. But then the finale came with Josh and Idina singing "You and I" at the top of their lungs while holding hands. Wow, is all I can say.
To our surprise, PBS did a broadcast of "Chess in Concert" the day before the DVD was released. For those who might have recorded the program off TVa question might be why buy the DVD? Answers include widescreen format and the ease of a) adding Subtitles, b) invoking SurroundSound, c) navigating to favorite songs, and d) reading end credits.
Video transfer of this DVD concert is impeccable. Nevertheless, more "making of" interviews and features would be nice. Maybe those will come with a Collector's Edition? If so, we might hear from the Swedish geniuses, Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. Without them there'd be no ABBA music, no "Mamma Mia," and no "Chess in Concert."
Is "Chess in Concert" perfect? No. Why Sir Tim Rice would throw in an "F--- You," from the American to the Russian toward the end was vulgar and out-of-place. But I'm giving this work five (5) stars for all its grand design, innumerable classic songs, choral and instrumental accompaniment, choreography, and stunning visual effects. At twice its current price, this DVD is a real bargain.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2010
I own all the official recordings of Chess...in sequential order...Original 1984 Concept Album, Broadway Cast, 1994 Gothenburg Concert, 2001 Danish Cast, 2002 Swedish Cast...and was hugely excited about this release. I suppose mainly for the fact that it included the rare tracks "Commie Newspapers", "Press Conference", "One More Opponent" etc. which were removed from the original Danish release - now deleted. (Although I have finally just found a copy of the deleted complete Danish recording).
So much of this recording should have blown the socks off all the others, but sadly where it succeeds in a few places it hugely disappoints in others. However, to review this Royal Albert Hall concert it's impossible not to compare it with the others.
The success of any recording of Chess largely depends on the three principals. Not surprisingly, the strongest trio of all is the Swedish Cast. I know the fact that the recording is in a foreign language may put people off but believe me there is no better recorded Florence than Helen Sjöholm. Even in Swedish you are hit by the full extent of her emotive singing. Anders Ekborg is a stunning Freddie, coping admirably with the demands of the role whilst Tommy Korberg cements his role of Anatoly in his third recording; the years having hardly touched his voice. You simply cannot better these three and it's a huge regret that they didn't record an English version - although you can find Sjöholm singing "Someone Else's Story" in English on YouTube.
So the good points about the RAH concert...
The recording boasts the very best start to "Endgame: the chorus of the past masters". Listen to this with the volume up full, it's amazing! The CD is worth it for that alone. Generally, the chorus work on "Merano", "Merchandisers" etc. is stunning and it's fantastic to hear such a large choir. David Bedella turns in the best recorded Molokov period - even outshining Denis Quilley on the concept album. Kerry Ellis gives a fantastic portrayal of Svetlana and sings "Someone Else's Story" very well indeed - although I do prefer Judy Kuhn's take on the Broadway Cast. So the 3 principals: Adam Pascal is definitely the best English speaking Freddie, the right level of petulance, strong control and a very touching rendition of "Pity The Child". Josh Groban does his best, sometimes producing beautiful tone and it's hard to decide whether he is better or worse than Stig Rossen on the Danish Cast. It's true he improves as the concert carries on but there is some emotional depth lacking but he can't match Korberg. As Florence, Idina Menzel is a huge disappointment. As others have argued more eloquently, it just doesn't work. This is nothing against Ms Menzel per se, it's just that she doesn't have a voice naturally suited to the role. She is too shrieky and yet lacks power; far better to listen to Emma Kershaw on the Danish Cast. Also Menzel and Groban don't have a great rapport, the voices don't gel well together. And strange that they reverted to the awful amateurish Broadway lyrics for "You And I (reprise)"
So in my order of preference:
1. Swedish Cast - best trio of principals, and some interesting and moving changes to the score - watch the DVD, the stage production is brilliant.
2. Danish cast - even if you can't get the deleted version, the re-release is almost the entire London production.
3. Royal Albert Hall - mainly for completeness, David Bedella, Adam Pascal and the Chess Masters Intro
4. Original Concept Album - Paige and Korberg nailing the roles.
5. 1994 Gothenburg Cast - awful histrionics from Anders Glenmark, but Korberg is fantastic, and Karin Glenmark (Florence) sings the  out of it. Also a great encore of "Merano" but terrible supporting performances.
6. Broadway Cast - only for Judy Kuhn; a terribly mangled version of a fantastic score.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By the early 1980s Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice had come to a parting of ways and Rice--always interested in the mixture of media and politics--turned his attention to a musical that reflected the Cold War rivalry between the USA and the USSR via international chess, the central characters and their battles very loosely inspired by grandmasters Bobby Fischer, Viktor Korchnoi, and Anatoly Karpov. Rice worked with Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, formerly of the world-famous band ABBA, and the result was the critically acclaimed 1984 concept album CHESS. A London stage version starring Elaine Page and Murray Head opened in 1986 to generally positive reviews; it ran about three years. A New York stage version starring Judy Kuhn and David Carroll opened in 1988 to generally negative reviews; it ran about three months.
There was a significant difference between the London and New York versions. In London, the play was essentially a modern opera similar to EVITA, sung throughout with very little in the way of spoken dialogue. In New York, the play was re-tooled as a book musical, with a detailed script used to support a truncated score. In both instances critics and public admired the performers and the music, but in both instances the productions were simply to elephantine for success, with the play dwarfed by overpowering fits of tempermental multi-media that sometimes worked and sometimes did not. There was a generally feeling that a simpler production would be more appropriate, and over the years there have been numerous "concert" revivals of the play, usually following the original London style but with the cast playing directly in front of an orchestra placed on the stage. The results have sometimes been very fine. Unfortunately, the 2008 Albert Hall concert production isn't one of them.
Once again, producers have been unable to resist the temptation to over produce the play. There is a fifty piece orchestra, a one hundred performer chorus, and a large cast of singers and dancers. There are endless and extremely annoying multi-media graphics. The show is so buried under these details that it never had a chance: there are a few moments when it comes to life, but on the whole it drags itself along in a series of unhappy gasps, not the least of which are caused by a series of horrendously miscast singers. Much has been said of Josh Grobin's performance as Anatoly, and his voice is quite fine, but he's about as Russian as Cary Grant. Idina Menzel, who plays Florence, and Adam Pascal, who plays Freddie, both came out the musical RENT--and they sound exactly as if they are trying to impose that show's musical style on a significantly different work. I might also add that Menzel has an extremely nasal voice and that Pascal tends to flounce. Marti Pellow and Clarke Peters are weak, Kerry Ellis is merely okay, and the only person who actually nails the thing start to finish is David Bedella in the role of Molokov. To ice it over, the sound is weak and the cinematography is poor and this has to be one of the most incredibly dire performances of "One Night In Bangkok," the show's signature song, ever put on the professional stage.
In spite of these glaring flaws, CHESS: IN CONCERT is worth seeing for the simple reason that it probably the closest thing that exists to a full recording of the original score. Rice has fiddled a bit with it (again) and makes the very odd choice of giving "Someone Else's Story" to Svetlana, but on the whole this is very close to what Rice, Andersson and Ulvaeus had in mind for the show in terms of content and sequence. If you're a hardcore fan of the musical, as I am, you'll want to see CHESS: IN CONCERT, but you're likely to prefer the stylings of Elaine Page, Murray Head, Judy Kuhn, and David Carroll instead.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer