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BWW Review: CHESS THE MUSICAL at Regent Theatre

Natalie Bassingthwaighte delivers emotional excellence, Paulini is just jaw droppingly good and Alexander Lewis gives a standing ovation worthy performance.

BWW Review: CHESS THE MUSICAL at Regent Theatre
Full Company.
Photo by Jeff Busby

If you are after a night of '80s electric power ballads that are infused with a theatrically dramatic orchestral score, then StoreyBoard Entertainment's semi-staged concert revival of Chess The Musical is the show for you!

With music by ABBA's Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus the original 1984 double LP concept album has certainly 'outwitted, outlasted and outplayed' the test of time. In its day it was a UK Top 10 hit, described by Rolling Stone as a "dazzling score" and Time Magazine proclaiming "rock symphonic synthesis ripe with sophistication and hummable tunes".

For lovers of Sir Tim Rice, like myself, his book & lyrics in Chess may unfortunately blindside you. The majority of the book & lyrics, and quite frankly the story, are stuck in an '80s microcosm. That being said, some timeless themes are cleverly explored.

Since the late '70s, Rice had been keen on exploring Cold War political rivalries in a theatrical setting and was captivated by the underlying political manoeuvring in the 1972 "Match of the Century" between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. Hence Chess The Musical was created.

While the themes in Chess don't effectively translate into a storyline, an issue that has always plagued the musical, the casting of this revival alone makes ticket admission price worthwhile.

BWW Review: CHESS THE MUSICAL at Regent Theatre
Paulini and Natalie Bassingthwaighte.
Photo by Jeff Busby


Natalie Bassingthwaighte delivers emotional excellence as Florence Vassy, shining brightly when belting out "Nobody's Side", a true highlight of the evening. Paulini as Svetlana Sergievskaya is just jaw droppingly good, her performance of "Someone Else's Story" is absolutely stunning. Getting to hear these two leading ladies sing "I Know Him So Well", the UK chart's biggest ever single selling female duo ballad, is a real treat, that will bring a smile to any musical theatre, pop or rock fan.

Opera and musical theatre star Alexander Lewis is a perfect fit as Anatoly Sergievsky, commanding the stage with impressive vocals in "Where I Want to Be" and ending the first act with a sensational, standing ovation worthy performance of the classic power ballad "Anthem". Mark Furze brings a great rock voice to Frederick Trumper, Brittanie Shipway rules supreme as The Arbiter, Rob Mills bewitches as Walter De Courcey and Eddie Muliaumaseali'i beguiles as Alexander Molokov with his beautiful bass timbre.

Bianca Baykara, Brianna Bishop, Devon Braithwaite, Kaya Byrne, Jillian Green, Scout Hook, Adam Noviello and Thern Reynolds all provide strong ensemble vocals and excel in their execution of Freya List's fantastic choreography.

BWW Review: CHESS THE MUSICAL at Regent Theatre
Alexander Lewis, Brittanie Shipway,
Eddie Muliaumaseali'i & Mark Furze.
Photo by Jeff Busby


The true star of the show however is the magnificently dazzling twenty-six piece orchestra lead by musical director David Piper and with assistant music direction by Martine Wengrow. Paired with Andrew Patterson's keyboard and drum programming, as well as Michael Waters sound design, the dramatic splendour of the Regent Theatre is filled with sparkling authentic orchestral sound, that pays homage to the original 1984 double LP concept album, while still staying relevant to a 21st century music lover.

While Chess' fantastic score is scaffolded together by a clunky story, mostly told through unnecessarily difficult to navigate recitative, director Tyran Parke does an outstanding job in his attempt to perform lifesaving surgery on the notoriously complex and arduous storyline. He succeeds in giving some real clarity and depth to Florence's character arc and gives Svetlana more substance and presence, by introducing her into the story in the first act, through a penultimate performance of "Someone Else's Story". This shortly followed by "Anthem" leaves the audience applauding loudly in their seats as the intermission lights come up.

Dann Barber's raked chess board set, and black, white and occasional red costume design is perfect for this semi-stage concert version of Chess, adding suggestive details where necessary, while still giving the songs and performers stage dominance. Gavin Swift's lighting design helps to highlight and emphasise Chess' pop-rock concert context, while still being theatrical. The illumination of the Regent Theatre's black brick stage wall was particularly effective.

Chess The Musical will be touring next to Adelaide from 27 May - Saturday 29 May, Perth from Thursday 3 June - Saturday 5 June and finally Brisbane from 8 June - 10 June. More information can be found at www.chessmusical.info

BWW Review: CHESS THE MUSICAL at Regent Theatre
Full Company.
Photo by Jeff Busby

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