Chess (the musical) For Beginners

There’s been a resurgence of interest in Chess lately, because the young people have noticed that it is brimming with thumping good tunes.  Stephen Schwartz name-checked its score as one of his faves, and that sent young girls, finally tired of Wicked, off to the interweb to find out more.

But it’s a minefield, this becoming a Chessophile: so many versions, so much debate.  A user-friendly critical summary and synopsis is in order.

Critical Summary

Good tunes. God-awful plot.  Show doesn’t work.


Molokov: Hehehe.  We Soviets are so devious.  But, really, are the Americans any better?

Florence: Whom should I love?  The Russian, who treats me so lovingly, or that American douche?  If only Daddy were alive, he could help for some reason.

Freddie: Love me! Love me! LOOOOOOVEEEE MEEEEEEEEE!

Anatoly: I defected from Russia, leaving behind a wife and child, and the Soviets used that against me.  How could a world champion chess player see that coming?

Arbiter: I’m the Arbiter.

Svetlana: Where the hell was I all through Act One?  Anyway, I’m here now.  My vagina is angry.

Everyone: It’s so like chess, unless you’re actually familiar with the game.


8 thoughts on “Chess (the musical) For Beginners

  1. I was going to say “please, please, please, rip apart Miss Saigon like this” … and then I thought a thought that I’ve thought many times over the years and I want you to answer it – “why does Les Mis work, but Miss Saigon not (work that is)?” Now I know that some will say that it does, but I *know* that it doesn’t …

    • My answer, without thinking too hard, would be Victor Hugo and Herbert Kretzmer. Les Mis has an engine (the chase) that Saigon can’t match. And Kretzmer’s English lyrics, while they aren’t always graceful, are pretty good at getting the story across. Maltby’s lyrics in Saigon waste an awful lot of time doing this:

      Chris: I am a soldier, I’m tough.
      I am a cock with a gun.
      Oh, wait, these Asians are people like me.
      Sweet Jesus, what have we done?

    • Agreed, simbo. But I always figured Tim was really the Russian. You know, a good old-fashioned case of “spot the writer”.

  2. Re: Miss Saigon vs Les Mis
    May I ask you to re-visit your answer above?
    Madame Butterfly has the same (lack) of engine as Miss Saigon. Lyrics, though in Italian have much the same sentiment, yet works every time!

    • Hmmm …

      I don’t reckon opera needs an engine as much as a musical does, because there’s a convention (hell, there’s an expectation) of vocal brilliance, and those moments of vocal brilliance tend to come at points where the plot stands still.

      Mind you, musicals are learning how to do this too. “Wicked” is full of bits where the plot stops and Elphaba yells at you.

  3. Gosh yes, and why not after watching double Glee last night with Idina belting out I dreamed a dream, Funny Girl and Poker Face – who needs an engine, it should all be an excuse for a good tune and a great sing.

    That must be why I still love Chess!

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