maanantai 30. tammikuuta 2012

Chess (concert) - Budapest 2010

I've been a fan of Abba since I was 10, but Kristina från Duvemåla's score made me think I'm not interested in Björn&Benny's musicals. Besides, how could a musical about chess be interesting? It's a board game, for heaven's sake!

Boy, was I wrong...

I don't usually get this hooked to realistic musicals with no supernatural-ish themes, but somehow Chess is an exception. The story is touching, the characters realistic, and it has one of the most beautiful musical scores I have ever heard, if not the most beautiful. It was love at first sight.

(Video link: Another, longer trailer in Facebook)

Out of all the musicals I've seen, Chess is probably the most difficult to put to words. If you want your musicals to be nice, light and feel-good, Chess might not be my first recommendation, though it has its funny scenes, too. This production felt like someone would gently, piece by piece, rip my soul open. The musical concentrates very much on raw feelings, communication and problems related to it, the big choices of life, the wrong choices, the right choices, and everything in between. Its world is not black-and-white in the sense of good and evil; every character is a shade of grey, they have their reasons to act like they do, and though they make mistakes, those are human mistakes, easy to understand. They're trying to lead their personal life as well as they can, even though they're all just chess pieces in the big political game between the USSR and the USA.

In Chess, the most beautiful melodies often aren't in the big hits, in my opinion. Florence's big solos are pretty but not perhaps the most memorable musical songs ever, and the more dancepop-like songs like "The Arbiter" and "One Night in Bangkok" aren't necessarily the best ones to summarize the style of the musical, though I like them very much. Of the big, clearly separate songs I love Anatoly's songs, the ensemble numbers and other group-of-people-singing songs the most, and also Svetlana's songs.

But the little melodies, sometimes slipped here and there and sometimes controlling half of the musical, and the huge and complex opera-like music truly nailed me to my seat. The music is catchy, beautiful, bittersweet, multi-layered and dramatic. There's something very flowing in it. The best metaphor I can come up with is a little mountain river that has just gotten free of ice and is now dancing among the rocks and ice leftovers. Add an occasional huge waterfall, a humorous fish and a dead puppy, and you might get close the general feeling of the Chess score.

The chess game theme is hypnotizing, as is "The Story of Chess". There's something even lullaby-like in them. I never cry in theatre, but the whole Endgame sequence brings through such desperation, willpower, sadness and beauty mingled together that I was holding back tears. By the reprise of "You and I" I was ready to sneeze on Anatoly's jacket and hug him and tell it's going to be all right.

The chess game. Photo: PS Produkció

For those who know the musical, the Hungarian concert production is basically the 2008 Royal Alber Hall concert, though compared to the 2008 concert, they had cut "The Merchandisers", "Hymn to Chess" and the scene in which Freddie tells Anatoly about a flaw in Viigand's game before the big final match, and also some dialogue and small reprises that aren't even listed in the song list. The cuts IMO made the story and scenes flow much better. The concert production follows the London storyline, and there's nothing extra on stage, just what really matters, and for me this production brings the best out of the musical. It has impressive show elements, yes, but somehow the dramatized concert form with very little sets seemed to leave more room to the musical itself, its idea and music.

I liked the changes they had made to Walter de Courcy's (the adorable Béla Pavletits) character. It wasn't explicitly told that he was a CIA agent, though in the end it was quite clear, and he wasn't shown as the bad guy (or as the good guy, for that matter). He wasn't your stereotypical agent like Molokov and there wasn't anything evil in him, he simply played his role in the big international game, used everyone equally, no matter if they were on his or on the other side, and secretly laughed at especially the easily fooled and used Freddie. I got the feeling that it was he who in the end wasn't on nobody's side but his own. Then again, so were most other characters in the end.

Related to this, the most important change was that (for the first time ever?) it wasn't indicated that Florence's father really hadn't been found and everyone had just lied to Florence. In the end Walter said something like "Now your father will be free" and, after Florence's reaction, smiling friendly, "Life being just a game isn't true", after which Florence sang the reprise of "Anthem". It wasn't explicit, but it left me with a clearly positive feeling about the whole matter. At least more positive than the "Haha, we have fooled you, now you lost the both men" in the other versions I've seen. I think the musical requires this little ray of hope, or otherwise they should place a portable psychologist's office outside the theatre.

Béla Pavletits, Géza Egyházi, Ernő Zsolt Kiss, Viktor Varga & Géza Gábor.
Photo: PS Produkció
The Cast

Anatoly Sergievsky: Géza Egyházi
Florence Vassy: Éva Sári
Frederick Trumper: János Szemenyei / Levente Csordás
Alexander Molokov: Géza Gábor / Balázs Csórics
Svetlana Sergievsky: Tímea Kecskés
The Arbiter: Ernö Zsolt Kiss
Walter de Courcy: Béla Pavletits
Leonyid Viigand: Viktor Varga / György Mihálka
The Mayor: Dávid Sándor
Diplomats, etc.: Gábor Jenei, Zsolt Szentirmai, Ádám Pásztor, Szabolcs Hetei-Bakó, Dávid Sándor
Reporters: Darinka Nyári, Beáta Ajtai, Márta Debreczeni, Réka Kovács, Véra Fekete Kovács
Choir: Jazz And More Choir

Generally everyone was great, with the exception of 2nd Freddie, Levente Csordás, who wasn't exactly bad but also not as good as the rest of the cast. He didn't have a very Freddie-ish feeling in him, and his voice could have been better. The 1st Freddie, János Szemenyei, was really really good, though, he had just the right amount annoyingness and arrogance and his Fred was too impulsive to notice what really was going on around him. His acting was unbelievably intense, and he definitely gave his all and threw himself in the emotions of the cynic and abandoned character. (Video link: Rehearsal version of Pity the Child)

Géza Egyházi was easily the best Anatoly I've encountered. Slightly stubborn, slightly stiff at the first look and silently desperate, but there was also the flirty and romantic side under the surface. He wasn't a big bundle of larger-than-life angst, but just a man whose life was in dead end and who didn't quite know what to do about the situation. His Endgame part was heartbreaking. His velvety baritone sounded great in especially the "Mountain Duet", the "Anthem" and the Endgame, and I keep being hooked to his "Where I Want to Be":

Molokov was incredible, one of the highlights of the performances. Géza Gábor is an opera singer, a bass, and his voice fit the songs perfectly. My face must have looked like O_o when he first opened his mouth and started to sing. He had comical talent and added some subtle funny details to the character, although his Molokov definitely had to be taken seriously. Balázs Csórics was good, too, but with a baritone Anatoly a bass Molokov works much better, if we assume that the lower the voice is, the further the character is from sweet tenor boys. (Video link: The Soviet Machine)

Éva Sári (Florence) had a strong and beautiful voice, and she had a very Florence-ish attitude, will of her own. I think Tímea Kecskés as Svetlana perhaps acted a tiny bit better, but I had nothing to complain with Éva, either. I'm sad that I didn't get to hear Réka Koós as Svetlana. Anyway, I enjoyed the both ladies' performance very much.

Then the singing and dancing ensemble. Ernö Zsolt Kiss (Arbiter) is in many ways a pleasure to the eyes: he looks good, he's dressed well, and I like the way he moves. The male singers kept catching my attention with their detailed acting, and I loved their "Embassy Lament". The British choreographer said in an interview that she'd like to take all the dancers with her to England, and I understand her, since especially the "Soviet Machine" and the chess matches were stunning. (Video link: The Arbiter) Also the Jazz and More choir sounded excellent, and I loved it how the huge choir loomed behind the actors like some half-demonic Angel Choir of Doom.

The musical plays very very rarely, and though they actually were supposed to quit last year, they announced two more shows in April 2012.

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