Chess is a musical with music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of the pop group ABBA, lyrics by Tim Rice, and a book by Richard Nelson based on an idea by Rice. The story involves a politically driven, Cold War–era chess tournament between two grandmasters from America and the USSR and their fight over a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other. Although the protagonists were not intended to represent any real individuals, the character of the American grandmaster (named Freddie Trumper in the stage version) was loosely based on Bobby Fischer, while elements of the story may have been inspired by the chess careers of Russian grandmasters Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov.
Chess was a significant and powerful piece of music theater for its time as it allegorically reflected the Cold War tensions present in the 1980s. The musical has been referred to as a metaphor for the whole Cold War, with the insinuation being made that the Cold War is itself a manipulative game. Released and staged at the height of the strong anti-communist agenda that came to be known as the "Reagan Doctrine", Chess addressed and satirized the hostility of the international political atmosphere of the 1980s.
Like several other productions, namely Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, a highly successful concept album was released prior to the first theatrical production in order to raise money. In the case of Chess, the concept album was released in the autumn of 1984 while the show opened in London's West End in 1986 where it played for three years. A much-altered US version premiered on Broadway in 1988, but survived only for two months. Chess is frequently revised for new productions, many of which try to merge elements from both the British and American versions, but no major revival production of the musical had been attempted until 2018, when revivals were planned for both the West End and Broadway.
The double LP, often referred to as a concept album or album musical, was released worldwide in the autumn of 1984. Liner notes included with the album featured a basic synopsis of the story in multiple languages along with song lyrics and numerous photos. The music on the album was described by The New York Times as "a sumptuously recorded… grandiose pastiche that touches half a dozen bases, from Gilbert and Sullivan to late Rodgers and Hammerstein, from Italian opera to trendy synthesizer-based pop, all of it lavishly arranged for the London Symphony Orchestra with splashy electronic embellishments". The album featured Murray Head, Tommy Körberg, Elaine Paige, and noted actor Denis Quilley in the role of Molokov. A single from the album, "One Night in Bangkok", with verses performed by Murray Head and choruses performed by Anders Glenmark, became a worldwide smash, reaching #3 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The duet "I Know Him So Well" by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson held the #1 spot on the UK singles charts for 4 weeks, winning the Ivor Novello Award in the process as the Best Selling Single ('A' Side).
On 27 October 1984, a concert version of the album was premiered by the original cast in London's Barbican Centre and then performed in Hamburg, Amsterdam, and Paris with final presentation on 1 November in Berwaldhallen in Stockholm.
In 1985, music videos were filmed for the songs "One Night in Bangkok", "Nobody's Side", "The Arbiter", the ballads "I Know Him So Well", and "Pity the Child", featuring the performers from the album and directed by David G Hillier. These were released together in a VHS video entitled Chess Moves.
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