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"Chess" Revival on Boston Stage

This article is more than 12 years old.

This weekend, the Boston Conservatory is reviving the rock musical, "Chess."

It was written by the Swedish power-pop band ABBA in the 1980s and flopped when it hit Broadway back then.

But today "Chess" is a cult favorite among musical theater fanatics. WBUR's Andrea Shea pulls back the curtain.

Music from London cast recording of 'Chess'

ANDREA SHEA: ABBA members Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson wrote 'Chess' in 1984 with Tim Rice, the co-lyricist on 'Jesus Christ Superstar.' 'Chess' was released first as a concept album. Then it hit the stage in London.

KEVIN MARK KLINE: I picked up 'Chess' the cast recording when I was in High School.

ANDREA SHEA: Now Kevin Mark Kline is directing the revival at the Boston Conservatory.

You know, just being a musical theater dork, grabbing every recording that I could devour, and I listened to it and I listened to it and listened to it and I became a huge fan.

Music from cast recording of 'Chess'

ANDREA SHEA: Kline says 'Chess' is a perfect storm for fans of the 80s, with ABBA, the pop musical genre and the dance hit, 'One Night in Bangkok.' It was written for the score.

Murray the Head version of 'One Night in Bangkok'

KEVIN MARK KLINE: It's kind of a silly song.

ANDREA SHEA: Again, Director Kevin Mark Kline.

KEVIN MARK KLINE: It's not something that you would expect to have been such a big hit and it has this really dedicated audience.

Music from rehearsal: 'How many women would drive themselves crazy by arguing over a game of chess?...'

ANDREA SHEA: 'Chess' works like other pop rock musicals. At this rehearsal an orchestra is joined by electric guitar, bass and synthesizer. The plot is a love triangle involving 'the girl' and two champion chess players...one American, one Russian. It's set during the Cold War and director Kevin Mark Kline says the game of chess is a metaphor on many levels.

KEVIN MARK KLINE: Everybody is like a pawn being used by someone and every character has very limited moves that they can make.

MATTHEW THOMPSON: My character is the established champion and he is under the ball and chain of Soviet Russia. He doesn't really have any freedom.

ANDREA SHEA: Matthew Thompson plays the Russian. The actor likes the score but says he isn't a card-carrying 'Chess' fanatic. He thinks the musical's cult status is ironic considering its fate on Broadway in the 80's.

MATTHEW THOMPSON: It didn't tank like 'Carrie' the musical but it tanked pretty darn close (laughs)

ANDREA SHEA: Thompson and William Larche, who plays the American, are in their 20s and laugh about the music's blatant 80s sound.

Sound of them laughing about the synthesizer at rehearsal

ANDREA SHEA: At the same time, though, Larche calls 'Chess' the ultimate 80's power musical.

WILLIAM LARCHE: This show really preserved itself as period piece of it's time, a time with all the nostalgia that goes on today with 'I Love the 80's' and VH1 it's something my generation is interested in. We to say the word Rubik's cube in this show, how many musicals have that word as a lyric (laughs)

Music from the rehearsal

ANDREA SHEA: It's been 20 years since 'Chess' has played on stage in Boston. And while people who love the 80s are buying tickets, the cast and director hope to entice audeinces out of the rock clubs and into the theater.

For WBUR I'm Andrea Shea.

MUX: 'One Night in Bangkok' from the Boston Conservatory rehearsal

Audio for this story will be available on WBUR's web site later today.

This program aired on April 11, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

Andrea Shea Twitter Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.


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