When StoreyBoard Productions announced their next production would be Chess, there was an incredibly positive response on social media. Director Tyran Parke grew up with the musical but admitted that he forgot the popularity of Chess.
“People genuinely love that score. I always knew the general public loved it, but hardened theatre professionals were writing to me saying, ‘Oh my God it’s my favourite show!’ It’s quite amazing. I have an affection for it because I grew up with it, but I’ve also been really fascinated by the journey of Chess to find itself,” explained Parke.
Chess is a musical with music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus (from the pop group ABBA), lyrics by Ulvaeus and Tim Rice, and a book by Rice. The show includes hits such as ‘Nobody’s Side’, ‘I Know Him So Well’, ‘One Night in Bangkok’, and ‘Anthem’.
The two shows announced for Melbourne’s Regent Theatre have nearly sold out, and Parke expects the audience to be a mix of existing fans of the musical and a younger generation who will discover the show for the first time.
Working at the VCA during the audition period, Parke had young music theatre students listening to Chess for the first time and declaring, “OMG, I want to sing that song, it’s fantastic!”
Tyran Parke wants to take a fresh look at this well-loved musical, but says ultimately this production is a celebration of the music.
“I’ve seen loads of productions of Chess and I can see where there are tricky corners to turn. Everyone knows that it ran for 3 years on the West End and 3 weeks on Broadway – that says everything, that it’s not foolproof.”
There are also political resonances to consider between the story and the current world politics, but Parke wants to find the human heart of the story.
“We are working with a female indigenous arbiter which has a very interesting take on the first prologue and the story of chess,” said Parke.
Parke admits he always felt the opening prologue of the musical that details the background of the game of chess always felt like something tacked on before the musical gets to the real story.
“We’re trying to find a way to follow through this notion culturally, that if you play games with people’s emotions then nobody wins. It’s always tricky at the end of Chess because nobody wins. So what do you do with that?”
With short touring seasons, this production of Chess will be very much focussed on the cast of amazing singers and with the music front and centre. The cast will feature both theatre performers and pop singers.
In choosing his cast, Tyran Parke considered who he could imagine singing the hit songs from the show. He expects the casting of Chess will automatically give the show a more contemporary approach to this pop score.
“We’ve heard all of our Elaine Page type people sing that score – and it’s fantastic. Our Florence just has a slightly edgier approach, even vocally, than the classic Florence,” explained Parke.
For the role of the Russian character, Anatoly, Parke says he’s chosen a more classical singer, so, “Anthem brings the house down.”
Chess will have a large 24 piece orchestra bringing the score to life, with a choir in each city, creating a cast of more than 40 people. Parke is also aware of the need for diversity amongst the cast of any show.
“When people see that cast is announced everyone who loves music should be able to go, ‘I identify with that. I’m welcome there, to both watch it and one day be in it’, which is really important.”
The cast will be announced on Monday 8th February.
Tickets are on sale and selling fast.
For more details of the tour and tickets: https://www.chessmusical.info/