Rant Of The Day THIS RANT 10/03/97

Rant Of The Day is where I get to mouth off about whatever I feel like for however long I like. Theoretically, I'll update my whinge/opinion piece every weekday; in practice, maybe not so often.

Chess comes to a premature checkmate

People who read all the text on the front page of Gusworld will have noticed that for some time I've been promising a guide to the merchandise available at the Melbourne production of Chess. I still intend to get around to this, but it's now going to become an academic and historical exercise, as the show itself is closing this Saturday (the 15th of March), after less than a month. If nothing else, that justifies my decision to fly down to Melbourne and see it early in the piece. (Trivia note: the Sydney Morning Herald, reporting the closure, also noted that the show's merchandise sales have been the best of any currently running in Australia. That could be my fault.)

Chess has achieved something of a reputation as a jinxed musical, based largely on its complete failure on Broadway and its previously unhappy history in Australia, where the debut production in Sydney also closed early in the run. Rabid fans such as myself know that this is not entirely the fault of the musical; it managed a very respectable London run of four or so years, toured New Zealand successfully, and has been a profitable concert enterprise.

Part of the problem in Melbourne may have been in the casting of Barbara Dickson (who sang the role of Svetlana on the original cast recording) as Florence, a not entirely sympathetic match with her vocal range. But the biggest problem of all is that people will insist on tampering with the structure of the show. The Broadway version was a complete rewrite of the plot. The Australian version was a melding of that flop version with the original London stage production. The only truly successful stage production has been the London version, and yet nobody seems willing to restage it.

The Melbourne version was promoted as being "an adaptation of the original London production", and it is a lot closer than the American take on things. But there were still a lot of changes made. Entire songs were deleted, and many others were cut down by a verse or three. The closing song was switched from 'You And I' to 'Nobody's Side', an uptempo number originally scheduled halfway through the first act. This, in particular, is one change that just doesn't make sense to me, and I can see how it would alter people's perceptions of the whole show.

I'm disappointed that the show won't (as rumoured) be coming to Sydney, and unhappy that this event is likely to become yet another addendum to the 'Chess is jinxed' file. To such critics, I can only answer: which musical was the last to generate a genuine, popular hit song across the world? The answer, of course, is Chess, which achieved the feat with 'One Night In Bangkok' way back in 1984.

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