Music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Based on an idea by Tim Rice

Chess | Book Musical

  • About the Show

    Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, CHESS tells the story of a love triangle involving two bitter rivals with music so irresistible that the original recording became a Top Ten album in south Africa (amongst other places) at the time of its release. Songs from the musical include the unforgettable Where I Want to Be, I Know Him So Well, One Night in Bangkok, Nobody's Sid, and Pity the Child. CHESS show premiered in London at the Prince Edward Theatre on 14 May 1986 and ran for three years.


    As the Overture concludes, Voltaire, a very old man, begins to relate the tale of four young people, Candide, Paquette, Maximilian, and Cunegonde, who live in Westphalia in the castle of the Baron Thunder-Ten-Tronck. The noble Candide is a bastard nephews of the the Baron, the sexy Paquette serves as a maid to the Baroness, the beautiful Cunegonde is the Baron’s virgin daughter, and the handsome Maximilian is her self-centered brother. The four, with the Baron and Baroness, describe their perfect existence (“Life is Happiness Indeed”).

    Voltaire explains that the four young people are introduced to the realities of Life by the wise Dr. Pangloss. Voltaire transforms himself into Dr. Pangloss by putting on an academic cap and gown. He leads his students into the castle schoolroom where, he lectures them on the fact they are living in “The Best of All Possible Worlds.” He dismisses everyone but Paquette, insisting she must stay for an advanced physics lesson. As Cunegonde runs off, she observes Pangloss making romantic overtures to Paquette. Pangloss explains he is giving Paquette a lesson in gravity.

    Candide appears, chinning himself on a tree branch. Cunegonde joins him. He is madly in love with her. She proceeds to give him an advanced physics lesson and they kiss, happily making plans for their future together (“Oh, Happy We”). They are suddenly interrupted by Maximilian, the Baron, the Baroness, Dr. Pangloss, and Paquette. When Candide and Cunegonde state their intention to marry, the Baron says his daughter cannot marry a bastard and Candide is exiled. Candide, sorely grieved, sings of his certainty that this awful turn of events is for the best.(“It Must be so”). Two men trick him into drinking to the health of the King of Bulgaria, stuff him in a sack, and drag him off to the Bulgarian Army.

    Bulgarian soldiers enter and rapidly slaughter the Baron, Baroness, and Maximilian. They carry Cunegonde off, kicking. They plan to sell her to the men of their regiment (“O Miserere”). Candide’s captors have stopped to rest. He is still in the sack. His captors are shot to death by two Westphalian soldiers.

    A Bulgarian soldier brings an abused Cunegonde onstage and leaves her for dead. Cunegonde and Candide (who is still inside the sack) sing of their lost innocence, united in spirit, although many miles apart. (Reprise: “Oh, Happy We”).

    Dr. Voltaire explains that Candide was next released from the sack by a band of strolling players and abandoned in Holland. Cunegonde is moved from brothel to brothel until she catches the attention of Issachar, a very wealthy man in Lisbon, and the Grand Inquisitor, who now share her pleasures. Cunegonde sings of her sordid role in life (“Glitter and be Gay”).

    A volcano erupts near Lisbon at the same time an earthquake shakes the city. Candide is washed up on the shore of a fishing village. When he suggests that this turn in events casts doubt on the “best of all possible worlds” theory, he is scolded by Dr. Voltaire. Dr. Pangloss appears as a beggar who has lost his nose and several fingers. He tells Candide of the demise of everyone at the castle and informs him that Cunegonde is raped and dead. Candide is distraught. Pangloss assures him everything that has happened is for best. His words are overheard by an agent of the Inquisition. Pangloss and Candide are arrested as heretics. The Inquisition plans to purge the city of heretics to prevent future earthquakes.

    A crowd of happy, excited citizens gather to witness the trials and executions of the heretics. A splendidly attired Cunegonde and her companion, the Old Lady, watch from a box as the crowd celebrates (“Auto Da Fé”). Candide and Pangloss are tried by the Inquisitor and recognized by Cunegonde. Pangloss is hung and Cunegonde faints as Candide is flogged. The voice of Dr. Voltaire assures him that “from what is worse, what can come but something better?”

    The Old Lady blindfolds Candide and leads him to Cunegonde. On the way, he mourns his state (“This World”). The blindfold is removed and he sees Cunegonde (“You Were Dead, You Know”). Both of Cunegonde’s lovers visit her while Candide is there. Candide accidentally kills both men. The Old Lady insists that they must flee to Cadiz. She grabs a box of jewels and they escape.

    When the jewels are stolen, the Old Lady decides to raise funds by seducing three Old Dons (“I Am Easily Assimilated”). However, they resist her charms and totter away. The gullible Candide is tricked into leading a relief party to rescue the Holy Jesuits of Montevideo from heathen attackers. He is told he will be the captain of a ship that leaves in three hours. Candide, Cunegonde, and the Old Lady celebrate their coming journey to the New World (Reprise: “I Am Easily Assimilated”).

    In the New World, the swaggering hot-blooded Governor of Cartagena, Colombia, is considering the purchase of two new concubines. The concubines turn out to be Paquette and Maximilian, now dressed as a female. The Governor rejects Paquette and selects Maximilian, for whom he expresses a strong attraction (“My Love”). Over Maximilian’s objections the Governor summons a priest to marry them. During the vows the Governor discovers his “bride” has two pineapples stuffed in his shirt. The Governor orders Maximilian hanged, but the priest offers to buy Maximilian for his Holy Fraternity.

    On board ship, Cunegonde confesses her growing doubt in the teachings of Dr. Pangloss shortly before the ship is boarded by pirates, who knock Candide unconscious and carry Cunegonde and the Old Lady away. When Candide questions Man’s need to massacre, cheat, and murder, Dr. Voltaire’s voice again scolds him.

    Candide arrives at the Jesuit’s stronghold where he is joyfully reunited with Paquette and Maximilian, now dressed as monks. When Maximilian learns of Candide’s intention to marry Cunegonde, he assaults Candide, who accidentally kills him. Paquette disguises Candide as a monk and they escape into the jungle.

    After weeks of travel, they come upon the utopian city of Eldorado, where everything is truly for the best. There is no war, no hunger, and no greed. The people and the animals are all wise, gentle and articulate. Two talkative pink sheep converse with a peaceful lion to prove the point (“Eldorado”). Candide and Paquette who are dressed in golden robes soon realize they hate peace and solitude. Candide misses Cunegonde. Candide and Paquette pack the sheep with gold and jewels and leave.

    In the meantime, the Old Lady is abandoned by the pirates and carried off by a Pygmy. The Pygmy sells her to a German botanist who sells her as a Madam of a brothel.

    They travel to Cartagena, where they find the Old Lady on the street. They buy her freedom and she tells them Cunegonde is in Constantinople. Spying their riches, the Governor offers to sail them to Constantinople on the frigate Santa Rosalia. He rows them to the frigate on a shaky-looking skiff (“Bon Voyage”). The skiff capsizes; Candide, Paquette, and the Old Lady end up on a tiny desert island with a single palm tree. They have lost their sheep and their new fortune. The sheep find them and they all rejoice (Reprise: “Best of All Possible Worlds”). They see a sail in the distance and know they are saved.

    They arrive in Constantinople in time to see Cunegonde jump out of a cake dressed as a Muslim slave. Candide and Cunegonde reunite again (Reprise: “You Were Dead, You Know”). He buys her, reserving one bag of gold on Paquette’s advice. Then Maximilian (who wasn’t killed after all), who reappears as a slave, convinces Candide to buy his freedom with the last bag of gold. The Old Lady offers to solve the future for the weary band by leading them to the Cave of a Wise Man.

    The Sage turns out to be Dr. Pangloss, who prattles on about the meaning of Life. While Pangloss babbles, a stray piece of paper floats into Candide’s hand. The paper states that the natural function of man is “to dig, spin, work without regret for yesterday or hope for tomorrow. For Man it is only work that makes life endurable.”

    Candide says they will buy a farm and cast aside wondering about the meaning of a meaningless world. They will fulfill their natural function working God’s earth from dawn to dusk (“Make Our Garden Grow”).

    A cow appears, as Candide, Cunegonde, and the company in rustic clothes pick up pitchforks, buckets, and other farm implements. The company sings that Eden can’t be found; the sweetest flowers and the fairest trees are grown in solid ground. They explain:

    "We’re neither pure nor wise nor good.
    We’ll do the best we know.
    We’ll build our house and chop our wood.
    And make our garden grow."

    As they lift their grateful eyes to God, the cow drops dead of the pox and Dr. Voltaire, back in nightshirt, draws the curtain.

    Casting Information

    Medium (M5 F2, with chorus playing multiple roles)

    FLORENCE - strong belt voice (to E). Mid-thirties. Born in Hungary (so musn't look like an "All-American Girl"); has been brought up in England since 1956. She is clever, theatrical, touching, vivacious, volatile. Frederick's chess "second."

    FREDDIE - Rock tenor (to C). Mid-thirties. An American chess champion. A cross between Bobby Fisher and John McEnroe. Arrogant and temperamental, but a genius; his chess playing revolutionary. We need to see his artistry along with his danger and his obsessiveness.

    ANATOLY - Baritone (to G sharp). Early forties. A Russian chess champion. Unexpectedly charming. He doesn't seem a romantic hero at first, but becomes one through his personality. An intelligent, feeling, passionate man.

    MOLOKOV - Bass (down to F sharp). Fifties. Not a fake, comic, stage Russian. Intellectually formidable.
    Seemingly a father figure to Florence. Anatoly's chess "second." An actor who sings well.

    SVETLANA - strong belt voice. Late thirties. Anatoly's wife. Domestic, wholesome, homey. A dramatic contrast to Florence - not a contemporary cosmopolitan woman.

    WALTER - Bass-Baritone (down to G sharp). Fifties. A marketing agent. Seemingly respectable, substantial, trustworthy. An actor who sings well.

    ARBITER - rock high baritone (up to A). Thirty to early forties. International businessman. Smooth, but with a quick temper.


    Production Material

    7  Principal Books (Arbiter, Svetlana, American, Walter, Florence, Molokov, Russion)
    28  Choir Books 2  Piano-Rehearsal Scores Act I
    2  Piano-Rehearsal Scores Act II
    1  WOODWIND I (Flute, Piccolo)
    1  WOODWIND II (Oboe, Cor Anglais)
    1  WOODWIND III (Clarinet I)
    1  WOODWIND IV (Clarinet II, Bass Clarinet)
    1  WOODWIND V (Flute II, Clarinet III, Baritone Sax)
    1  WOODWIND VI (Bassoon)
    1 HORN
    1 DRUMS
    1 GUITAR
    2 VIOLIN A
    2 VIOLIN B
    1 CELLO A
    1 CELLO B
    1 BASS

Partners & Associates

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  • samro