Musicals are so very bizarre. Yes, every form of storytelling is valid and serves its purpose in connecting with an audience. Just as there’s an invested audience for musicals, those very same people may struggle to connect with other forms of stories, be it films or whatever. Certain displays of narrative appeal to people in different ways. Every now and then, it does an audience member a service to step out from their usual comfort viewing, and indulge another form of expression.
This showing of Chess: The Musical was definitely an experience removed from the comfort of a cinema screening. It afforded an insight that wouldn’t have been known if not for seeing it. The specific insight was just how loud musicals are. That is now known. The performers of these stage productions are belters to the fullest extent. Sitting in that audience, you may feel the earths tectonic plates shift beneath you as the sonic waves blast over you. At it’s best, it’s an invigorating rush. While, in lesser moments, it’s a whole lot of noise with the belting, the orchestra, the choir all crashing over each other.
The narrative of Chess is something rather silly. It’s set during the cold war and has some attempt of a political statement running through it, but instead ends up as a lovers melodrama. Is Chess even a beloved musical? Or is it just the one that’s put on when everything else has been done? None of the songs seemed familiar, although aquick search informs that “One Night in Bangkok” was an Australian number 1 hit in 1985. Wow.
One thing that’s undeniable is what a great cast this show has. It’s an example of how competent performers make the material. It’s a shame the show they’re performing lacks that must-see spectacle, but, what the show does have, the cast embrace and hold it up (belt it out) for all that it can be.
It was particularly a thrill to see Natalie Bassingthwaighte on stage, her trademark husk expanding its range not heard on either of her Rogue Traders’ LP’s. An underrated Aussie legend who even felt a little under-appreciated by the audience, with their decidedly milder applause after her numbers. Was that a little pop star prejudice on display? No matter though, she was every bit a star on that stage. Her prowl of a stride as she stepped across the stage alone was a marvellous statement of character. Despite the music being created the BB’s of “ABBA,” none of the songs she performed were nearly as good as her solomaterial, but Natalie commanded the material as fully as she could.
When Paulini flowed her way onto the stage and began to sing, her voice had the audience enamoured, and their hard slap of an applause after her performances told you all you need to know. Mark Fruze and Alexander Lewis each showcased their own talents in their respective ways. Mark offering more of a rocker’s reverb, while Alexander let out his deep bellow. It’s also curious to note that Alexander’s sharp jawline perfectly aligned with the edges of the diamond stage he was performing on. Eddie Muliaumaseali’i owned the stage with every appearance he made. Rob Mills played some smarmy American to great effect with his cartoonish accent. Brittany Shipway delivered a much appreciated moment early in the show, singing a fun number that sounded a lot like Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero.”
With a lack of knowledge of the source material, there’s a trouble in gauging how successful of an adaptation this was. As a show in its own right, it succeeds because of its cast, not because of its story. What was witnessed was a stage production that ticked every box it was supposed to, and all that it could’ve. With slight stage dressing, and perhaps a little overcrowded backing choir and orchestra, Chess: The Musical is a functioning musical, no more, no less. If you don’t understand the appeal of musicals now, you still won’t after witnessing Chess. That’s the fun of it, though.
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