In that stream-of-consciousness way my mind often works, I have had show tunes from the musical Chess in my head lately. The reason for this is because, of course, I just got tickets to see Pippin. Huh?!
Pippin in a musical I feel like I know pretty well despite never having actually seen it on the stage. One of the local professional companies is doing it this season so Harper’s Other Dad asked me to buy tickets. Chess is another such show. I have the London and Broadway cast recordings in my iTunes library and I saw a great concert production of it on PBS a few years ago but I have never seen anyone perform it live. I hope to.
The musical tells the story of a love triangle involving two chess Grandmasters ; one American and one Russian set against the backdrop of the Soviet-era Cold War. The American is loosely based on Bobby Fisher and the Russian even more loosely based on Anatoly Karpov.
With music composed by Andersson & Ulvaeus; after ABBA but before Momma Mia, and lyrics by Tim Rice; after Evita, the show was originally released as a concept album in 1984. It was reworked for the stage and opened in London in 1986 where is was a qualified success and ran for three years. It was reworked, yet again, and opened on Broadway in 1988 where it was a financial and critical flop. Frank Rich of the New York Times opined; “the evening has the theatrical consistency of quicksand” and described it as “a suite of temper tantrums, [where] the characters … yell at one another to rock music”.
History notwithstanding, there are a few songs in the show that are really quite good and, from whatever cause, have been bouncing through my head this week.
The first song, “Someone Else’s Story” was not in the original concept album. It was added in Act II for the London production and then moved to Act I and given to a different character to sing in the Broadway production. The definitive recording is by Judy Kuhn but I could not locate a good clip of her singing it. This clip by Lea Salonga is just beautiful. This song is one of Harper’s Other Dad’s favorites so it is often heard wafting through Casa de Harper.
“Anthem” is the Act I Finale. This clip is of Josh Groban from the Royal Albert Hall concert production. This is one of my favorite show tunes. I so wish I could sing it.
“One Night in Bangkok” opens Act II. Murray Head’s recording was released as a single and got a little radio play. This is the video from the single. Hard to believe he’s the same person who sang the role of Judas 10 years earlier in the original recording of JC Superstar.
“I Know Him So Well”, a duet from Act II, has been recorded by everyone from Barbra Streisand to Whitney Houston to Susan Boyle. This clip, judging by the hairspray and shoulder pads is the 1980’s and it includes Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson who originated the song on the concept album.