20 October 2020

Chess Musical Opening Night Takes Place in Moscow

The spectators gave a 20-minute standing ovation.

On the 17th of October at the MDM Theatre, a premiere took place for the long-awaited musical of CHESS. Contrary to all expectations, another grandiose spectacle of Broadway quality has launched in Moscow.

At the same time as Broadway is suspending all premieres until next summer, the opening of CHESS has enabled viewers to meet the legendary ABBA composers Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus in an exciting script written by Tim Rice.

The main guest of the evening was the celebrated 12th world champion Anatoly Karpov, who is one of the main prototypes for the musical’s hero Anatoly Sergievsky. The premiere was also visited by other chess players, like the 12th women’s world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk, former European champion Pavel Tregubov, vice world champion Sergey Karjakin and his wife Galiya and other Russian celebrities like Philipp Kirkorov, Larisa Dolina, Alexey Kortnev, Alena Sviridova, Alena Khmelnitskaya, Stas Kostiushkin, Olga Buzova, Larisa Verbitskaya, Yuri Chursin, Irina Slutskaya and representative of the President of Russia for international cultural cooperation Mikhail Shvydkoi.

The spectators adored the scale and dramatic creativity of the musical. They were enraptured by the colourful decorations, an excellent sound system provided by specialists from London’s West End, the massive stages and the multimedia format which transported them across time and space. Everyone loved the music by ABBA’s founders and its expert performance by the orchestra, who became a part of the musical in its own right-the musicians deployed modern technologies and were able to be moved around different scenes, such as above a runway, before the majestic Alps or beneath a starry sky. 

Dmitry Bogachev, theatre producer, artistic director of the MDM Theatre: “At first it was scary to take on the most difficult and yet the most interesting production in my twenty years as a theatre producer. A few years passed before I decided to do so, once I felt confident in my own abilities and the support of like-minded colleagues. And now, right at the point of production, we’ve faced every imaginable and unimaginable challenge: theatres closing, quarantines, tickets being unsold, practice sessions interrupted, equipment not delivered, borders closed and a general crisis of the entertainment industry. It really did seem that CHESS was once again doomed in our country, like it was 35 years ago.

The fact that you, dear spectators, are watching it in the MDM Theatre, is against all the odds and has no rational explanation. It is our theatre miracle. Things like this sometimes happen in theatres, and no one knows why. Perhaps it is because of the bravery, determination and sheer will of all of our team, everyone who walked on the path from the moment of conception to the premiere.”

Right now, we can say that Moscow is enjoying a wonderful spectacle and the world is witness to a new rendition of a musical, since Tim Rice has given his permission to insert a new libretto into the Moscow performance, which is based on previous versions of the musical and historical events. It is telling that Anatoly Karpov, who has seen the musical in London, Stockholm and New York noted the proximity to reality of the Russian performance. 

Anatoly Karpov: “It is an amazing premiere, although I do feel uneasy at being cast at the main protagonist in such a renowned premiere. I shall the CHESS musical in many countries, from America to England and from Sweden to France, but this was the first time I saw it in Russian. Translating Tim Rice’s libretto into Russian is a tall order, but Alexey Ivaschenko managed to do it. It is clear that Sergievsky’s character is a cumulative one, but several details of my chess life are noticeable. It’s a very difficult task to show chess in art form; from the outside, it seems that it is a very calm game, but on the inside great emotions and passions are at play. This performance is about that. It’s a shame that Tim Rice was not able to travel here after he became so enamoured with chess during his three weeks at a match in Merano that he created this astonishing piece. I want to congratulate everybody who took part in this show!” 

Prior to the premiere, a separate team worked on launching this musical in Russia: author of the Russian text Alexey Ivaschenko, director Evgeny Pisarev, musical supervisor John Rigby, lights producers Nikolai Simonov and Alexander Sivaev, director of costumes Maria Danilova, sound-producer Richard Brooker, choreographer Irina Kashuba, video-designers from Raketa Media, conductor Evgeny Zagot and many others.

Evgeny Pisarev: “I am absolutely delighted that I played a part in this legendary musical! Right now, when the entire musical world is on pause and Broadway is shut at least until the summer, we have launched an expensive, beautiful, imposing and dramatic piece of theatre. Our performance is a cross-over between a musical, an opera and a rock-concert- a wonderful, colourful piece with stunning costumes and complex decorations. But its main distinction is its music!” 

The main roles in the premiere of CHESS were played by Alexander Sukhanov, Alexander Bobrov, Anastasia Stotskaya and Anna Guchenkova

Anastasia Stotskaya: “I’m always nervous before a premiere and today was no exception. But I understand that this is just the beginning and that we must carry on working. The musical is very difficult from a vocal point of view- I never had such a varied set of notes in a single project. Furthermore, it is a very immersive role that must be lived emotionally. But today I heard how we were received by the audience and saw that the whole room rose up in a standing ovation. And now I have nothing to say other than that I’m elated!”

After the premiere, Anatoly Karpov symbolically gave Dmitry Bogachev a chess set from his own collection of “The Invincibles” to present to Tim Rice. The Invincible chess pieces are made in the style of traditional Russian characters. The gift will await the master, who is planning to see the musical in Moscow.

After the premiere, the guests happily shared some of their impressions

Alexandra Kosteniuk: “I’ve wanted to see this musical for a long time and I am happy that I was able to do so in Moscow. This musical is a powerful performance. The stage sees the human tragedies, treachery, love and the pain of mistakes. And chess, oddly enough, does not play the dominant role in all this.”

Sergey Karjakin: “It was very interesting and dramatic. I felt immersed into the events at that time, attending matches between Spassky and Fischer, and between Karpov and Korchnoi. And they were not just matches for the world championship, they were contests between entire nations. The musical conveyed that brilliantly. And I would like to express thanks to the directors, since they have done a wonderful job popularising chess, which is extremely important!”

CHESS will be shown every day in the MDM Theatre

The Trailer of the Musical:


Information by the MDM Theatre press service. Photos by the the MDM Theatre press service and Eteri Kublashvili