REVIEW: CHESS THE MUSICAL – IN CONCERT (Theatre Royal Drury Lane)

Chess The Musical made its first move onto the West End stage in 1986. With a score from ABBA’s legendary Benny and Björn and book/lyrics by the incomparable Sir Tim Rice, the original concept album and production instantly became a hit with audiences and played for three years. Since then, the show has gone through many iterations including a short Broadway run, multiple international productions and numerous concerts including the likes of Michael Ball, Idina Menzel, Sutton Foster, Josh Groban and Alexandra Burke. Now for two nights only, audiences can once again be caught up in the drama, spectacle and melodies of this rich piece of theatre in a special concert playing Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Chess The Musical is set during the height of the Cold War as two chess masters meet in Bangkok to battle for the world championship, but their greatest contest is for the love of one woman. Telling a story of love and political intrigue and set against the background of the Cold War in the late 1970s/early 1980s, Chess features an incredible score including classics such as “I Know Him So Well”, “Anthem” and “One Night in Bangkok”.

Led by the London Musical Theatre Orchestra, this production of Chess The Musical features a star-studded cast including Samantha Barks (Frozen, Les Misérables) as Florence, Hadley Fraser (2:22 A Ghost Story, City of Angels) as Anatoly, Joel Harper-Jackson (Cock, Kinky Boots) as Freddie, Frances Mayli McCain (Bonnie and Clyde, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour) as Svetlana, Ako Mitchell (Caroline Or Change, The Colour Purple) as The Arbiter and Craige Els (Matilda the Musical, The Imitation Game as Molokov. Having played the part in director Nick Winston’s 2020 Japanese production, Samantha Barks wows with her Florence. Chess fan-favourites You And I, Heaven Help My Heart and I Know Him So Well have never sounded sweeter and her Nobody’s Side blew the roof of the theatre. As Anatoly, Hadley Fraser was stunning. Serving a brilliant rich vocal tone with gorgeous depth, he sang the score with ease and audiences were treated to the most beautiful rendition of Anthem this reviewer has ever heard. Bravo! Joel Harper-Jackson as Freddie was the perfect choice for this bombastic role and he delivered a vocal that enthralled from start to finish. Hitting new heights with vocal finesse and living his rock tenor fantasy, Harper-Jackson’s Freddie was an inspirational masterclass. Frances Mayli McCain’s striking voice beautifully handled a sweet Svetlana and her Someone Else’s Story and I Know Him So Well were magnificent show stoppers.

Directed and Choreographed by Nick Winston, based on his 2020 Japan production, this new Chess avoids the issues of previous productions and instead presents a streamlined and slick version of this iconic score. With power-house vocals, clever and effective choreography and commanding emotive performances this Chess is so much more than a concert. With the first show selling out quickly and only three chances to see the show over two nights, Chess The Musical remains as popular now as it was upon it’s debut. Chess is presented as part of three concerts being staged by Theatre Royal Drury Lane including Kinky Boots on 8th August and new musical Treason 22nd August. Tickets for all can be purchased on their website and if Chess is anything to go by, audiences are in for something very special.

★★★★★

Reviewed by Stuart James