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with John Fleming

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Abba duo's 'Chess' is a play with winning moves

From left, Josh Groban, Idina Menzel and Adam Pascal star in Chess in Concert, which was released on DVD this week.

TRISTRAM KENTON | Special to the Times

From left, Josh Groban, Idina Menzel and Adam Pascal star in Chess in Concert, which was released on DVD this week.

Chess is the great lost musical. Written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of Abba, with lyrics by Tim Rice, it was inspired by the escapades of the late American chess champion Bobby Fischer, back before he turned into a complete lunatic, and his rivalry with a grandmaster from the Soviet Union. The musical has had a checkered career, beginning with the fabulous 1984 concept album, followed by a series of disappointing stage productions.

Mamma Mia! may be what brought the music of Abba to a vast theater audience, but in many ways, Chess is a much more impressive achievement. Most everyone knows at least one song from the show, One Night in Bangkok, the infectious dance number originally performed by Murray Head, but the score is loaded with plenty of other delights, such as the soaring Someone Else's Story, sung by Florence, a Hungarian who becomes romantically involved with both chess players.

Chess had productions in London's West End and on Broadway, but the show never quite worked and was extensively rewritten at various points along the way. Now there's a terrific new concert version of the show, recorded and filmed last year at Royal Albert Hall in London, with Adam Pascal (Rent) as the American chess master, Josh Groban as his Soviet counterpart and Idina Menzel as Florence.

Rice was a producer of the concert, which restores the story and style of the original album, and he says it should be considered the definitive version.

Chess in Concert was released this week in a two-CD set on the Reprise label, as was a DVD of the performance. It is airing on Great Performances on most PBS stations around the country in prime time tonight, but not on the Tampa Bay area outlet, WEDU, which has chosen to run an Eric Clapton-Steve Winwood concert in that time slot. However, for night owls or viewers with DVR or TiVo and access to TV's digital tier, the concert is on WEDU+, channel 3.4, at 1 a.m. Thursday and 3 a.m. Friday.

• • •

Scott Hudson, an actor and playwright with ties to the Tampa Bay area, is bringing some Florida flavor to Off Broadway with his first play. Hudson's Sweet Storm, which premieres tonight and runs through July 5 at the Kirk Theatre in a production by the LAByrinth and Alchemy theater companies, is set in Lithia Springs during Hurricane Donna in the summer of 1960. The one-act, two-person play is about newlyweds who spend their honeymoon in a tree house.

"I used to hear about Hurricane Donna when I was a kid," said Hudson, 42, who grew up in Valrico. "It caused a lot of destruction in Florida."

Hudson, a Florida State University grad and member of the LAByrinth acting company, which includes such luminaries as Philip Seymour Hoffman and Daphne Rubin-Vega, moved from New York to Gainesville about two years ago. He said Tampa's Gorilla Theatre may have an interest in staging Sweet Storm. The set and costumes for the New York production were done by Tampa Bay designer Lea Umberger.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs at Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.

Abba duo's 'Chess' is a play with winning moves 06/16/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 16, 2009 10:46pm]
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