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BWW Review: CHESS at MDM Theatre - Back Where It Started


Chess finally made it to Moscow. Nothing else can be added...

BWW Review: CHESS at MDM Theatre - Back Where It Started

You all know Chess - that grand musical about the rivalry between Soviet and American chess players with a love triangle and fleeing the Soviet Union. This fall, it finally reached Russia with the help from Dmitry Bogachev and his company Broadway Moscow. It has it all - a notable director, great cast, freedom in terms of changing the plot and, unfortunately, a few drawbacks. Chess is that show that always surprises you because it's never the same in terms of structure and characters. Luckily, I got a chance to see it prior to the opening night. Here's how it was.

The musical had a long road to Moscow. At first, it appeared as a concept album in the USSR but was banned by the government for its „dirty anti-soviet„ statements. Now, talks about bringing it to Russia officially have been around for years. However, it's only now, in the middle of coronavirus pandemic, when the show premieres. That is truly unfortunate - theatres are constantly under pressure and anticipate to get closed at any moment. Going there is a big challenge for an audience because you have to decide if you're willing to take the risk of being near lots of people. A pity, for Chess is a show that needs to be seen by every musical theatre and theatre in general fan and lover.

The Russian production has an excellent team: the director, Evgeny Pisarev, who some years ago directed The Sound of Music in Moscow; famous actors who established their name in the genre; a well-known musical director Evgeny Zagot and choreographer Irina Kashuba; and a renowned translator Alexey Ivaschenko.

BWW Review: CHESS at MDM Theatre - Back Where It Started

Here's the cast I saw:

Alexandr Sukhanov as Anatoly Sergievsky

Alexandr Bobrov as Freddie Trumper

Anastasiya Stotskaya as Florence Vassy

Anna Guchenkova as Svetlana

Denis Damkiv as Arbiter

Aleksandr Matrosov as Molokov

As you can already see, Walter, another secret service agent, was omitted in the Russian version. The Moscow Chess tries to focus, for obvious reasons, on Anatoly - the show gains a new beginning with his family and him leaving for Merano. Anatoly gifts his son a family watch and leaves the seemingly cold atmosphere of his apartment with Molokov. This acts as a justification of Anatoly's betrayal of not only his country but family as well, although I felt unconvinced - probably we need a little bit more of his background. Therefore, this question still remains unanswered:

BWW Review: CHESS at MDM Theatre - Back Where It Started

Moscow version tends to talk about Anatoly so much that Freddie even mysteriously disappears after Pity the Child. The musical leaves an audience with a few more questions about the plot: why the watch is never brought up again; where Freddie was when Anatoly and Florence were in a tavern; why later he surprisingly starts his career in television. These moments were explained in the original West End production, and I personally would like to have them here as well. However, the biggest question that was left unanswered for me is why there are white people wearing afro (could stop here, but cultural appropriation is not really a topic in Russia) in Thailand?

BWW Review: CHESS at MDM Theatre - Back Where It Started

Russian production, as stated by the director Evgeny Pisarev, is a combination of the original show and one of the later ones. The most outstanding feature of Chess in Moscow for me was the usage of video archives from the USA and the USSR and the comparison between them, that eventually leads to the conclusion that people there and here are the same.

The cast, as already said before, consists of well-known Russian actors of this genre. Aleksandr Sukhanov, delivers a beautifully acted version of Anatoly. He tries to justify his romance with Florence as much as he can, looking at her frequently when she's on stage. Another honourable mention is Alexandr Bobrov who truly brings the rock'n'roll into Freddie's character. Anastasia Stotskaya as Florence looks very organic, as though she was made for this role. Anna Guchenkova is honest, bright Svetlana. Aleksandr Matrosov delivers frightening, yet the sometimes funny performance of Molokov. Denis Damkiv is the one who is stealing all the attention, having one of the most vibrant musical numbers. Most of the show is in grey, blue and black tones, but on the Arbiter Song the scene begins to shine both musically and visually.

To me, Chess is the most impressive spectacle there has been in Moscow since 20152016 season when The Phantom of the Opera opened at the same theatre, produced by the same producer, Dmitry Bogachev, but under Stage Entertainment name. Even though it has its flaws, it is still entertaining, astonishing and the music is breathtaking. Worth to see it to get to know the musical and hear all the songs and performances live.

Photo Credit: Yuri Bogomaz

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