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Chess in Concert

Other // Unrated // June 16, 2009
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Todd Douglass Jr. | posted August 18, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Show:

When it comes to musicals it just seems that some shows never truly go away, doesn't it? How many times has a show been brought back for a revival only to be presented to a new generation of theater goers? While it wasn't a complete rebirth, Chess saw a revolution of sorts with a concert at Royal Albert Hall in London last year. The cast was star studded, the music was altered somewhat, and all around the vibe of the musical was different from what theater goers had seen in the past.

Chess in Concert aired on PBS a little while ago and a DVD version of the event has been released as well. Complete with the soundtrack, this DVD presents the whole affair from start to finish, and it's definitely worth checking out if you were ever interested in the musical. Tim Rice, Benny Andersson, and Bjorn Ulvaeus have gotten many times over the years to tweak the show and improve upon it. It's stated at the beginning that this is the "real" version of the musical, and quite frankly it's about as good as it's ever going to get. With names like Josh Groban, Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal, Clarke Peters, Marti Pellow, Kerry Ellis, and David Bedella on the list, you just know it has to be something special!

One of the things about Chess that strikes me the most, is the complexity of the story and just how many intricacies there are within the plot. Basically, the theme of Chess is that we are all pieces in a game for others to manipulate as they see fit. It's something that recurs throughout the show, and gets even stronger in terms of symbolism in the second act. Thankfully this play on the concept of the game is peppered in between bits of a larger plot, which is actually fairly unique and captivating.

The show begins in the year 1979 with tension in the world as the Cold War is near its peak. All eyes have turned to Merano, Italy, for a chess tournament which will feature the champion from America, Frederick Trumper (Pascal) against the champion from Russia, Anatoly Sergievsky (Groban). From the very beginning the tensions are high. Freddie does what he can to create drama for the camera by being a brash American, while Anatoly is more the quiet type who is beginning to feel like a pawn in a game. It seems at the beginning of the show that his one true love is only chess, but soon enough he falls for Freddie's assistant, Florence (Menzel).

From this point the musical moves on to focus on the lives of Anatoly and Florence, as they defect to Britain. We discover one year later that Anatoly hasn't given up his love of chess and he continues to play, but this time for his new country. The story gets much more interesting from this point on, which is basically the second act, so I'll leave it at. I don't want to spoil too much, and in all honesty watching the show and discovering what's going on for yourself is what makes the story so powerful towards the end.

What I will say is that throughout this Chess in Concert experience there are some outstanding performances all around. Josh Groban easily steals the show though, and he seems like a perfect fit for the character of Anatoly. The other performers here never quite seem to match Groban in terms of presence on the stage. It almost seems as though some of the cast aren't quite a match for the characters they portray. There are many missed notes and other bits that are almost cringe worthy. Then again this was recorded as a live show and not something that allotted multiple attempts in a sound booth to get just right. You should expect some of that from just about any show I suppose, but when you're watching Chess with the sound cranked up and someone misses a note, you really notice it.

Despite the occasional blip in quality of the music, I thoroughly enjoyed Chess in Concert. Tim Rice and company pulled together a fantastic show and I'd gladly see this version if it were to go on Broadway or on tour again. Whether you were ever a fan of the musical, or if this is your first time checking it out, I'd have to say that this release is strongly recommended. It's not a show that's for everyone, but it's one that grows on you and you can't argue the overall power of the cast here.

The DVD:


Chess in Concert is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic aspect ratio. The show looks very good with some rich shadows, vibrant colors, and a nice amount of clarity. There's hardly any grain in the image and the DVD is free of compression artifacts and blocking. The only real flaw of this release is the fact that there's some light interlacing in the transfer, but that's marginal at best and you do have to be looking for it. All in all this is a stellar looking release!


With stereo and surround presentations on this release, Chess in Concert pretty much has all the bases covered. The surround is the better of the two options, as I'm sure you'd expect, and the sound field has a significant amount of depth compared to the stereo option. It's not quite as powerful as it could have been, but it is quite adept at what it does. Overall the quality of both tracks is very clean with no dropout, distortion, or flaws that would mar the fantastic soundtrack.


The two-disc soundtrack is packed in along with the DVD and there's a trailer for the show, but that's about all you're going to find here for bonus features.

Final Thoughts:

Chess in Concert is a DVD that should be welcome in any musical lover's collection. Groban, Menzel, and Pascal all give solid performances (albeit with the occasional blip) and Chess has never been better. This is a show that has gone through many evolutions since it originally came out 25 years ago, and if you were ever a fan of any other rendition you owe it to yourself to check out what Rice and company have done here. This is a solid show overall and despite the occasional flaw I'd call this one strongly recommended.

Check out more of my reviews here. Head on over to my anime blog as well for random musings and reviews of anime, manga, and stuff from Japan!

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