And so, here we are with the first and only version of Chess to ever be filmed and released on home video (there was a promo videocassette for a few songs from the concept album, but that doesn’t count—although it’s a great find nonetheless). Filmed in 2008 at the massive Royal Albert Hall in London, Chess In Concert presents yet another interpretation of Tim Rice’s epic Cold War musical. How does this version compare to all of the others? Well, to quote directly from the musical itself, “Everything’s altered, yet nothing has changed.”
Production-wise, Chess In Concert is about as balls-to-the-wall as you can get for a stage musical. And yet, it’s still very simplistic. Dialogue is sparse. Sets are nonexistent. A huge monitor above the stage reveals locations or even lyrics when necessary. The West End Chorus surrounds the City of London Philharmonic in the back. The actors perform in front of a crowded 5,000+ audience, occasionally sharing the spotlight with the London Studio Centre Dancers.
Leading the show this time ‘round is Grammy-nominated Josh Groban as Russian chess champ Anatoly Sergievsky, the tortured protagonist who longs for a life where he can pursue his love of the game—without all of the political and psychological games he currently deals with. Playing the part of Freddie Trumper, Anatoly’s American opponent, is Rent performer Adam Pascal. To call Trumper an arrogant prick would only be a compliment. His second (or, assistant, if you don’t speak Check) is Hungarian-born Florence Vassy, whose father is believed to have been captured or killed by the Russians during the 1956 uprising.
It doesn’t take long for Florence to express some interest in her colleague’s opponent, much to Freddie’s dismay (Freddie has to constantly reminds her that the Russians are the enemies). As time goes by, Florence and Anatoly become an item, much to the dismay of Anatoly’s second, Alexander Molokov (David Bedella)—who is actually a KGB agent. Further intrigue arises as Anatoly defects to the U.S. following his defeat over Freddie and Global Television reporter Walter de Courcy (Clarke Peters) hires the disgraced chess player to set up a few political games of their own. Things go from bad to worse for star-crossed lovers Anatoly and Florence when Molokov brings Anatoly’s wife, Svetlana (Kerry Ellis), to Bangkok during his next championship in order to force him to lose concentration. Marti Pellow brings up the rear of the cast as the Arbiter (and sometimes Narrator).