Music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus :
Lyrics by Tim Rice.
Based on an idea by Tim Rice
Prince Edward Theatre, London - 14 May, 1986 (1209
Imperial Theatre, Broadway - 28 April, 1988 (68 perfs)
This highly acclaimed musical develops the ancient and distinguished game of chess into a metaphor for romantic rivalries and East-West political intrigue. The principal pawns form a love triangle: the loutish American Grandmaster, the earnest Russian champion, and the Hungarian-American female chess second, who arrives at the international championships with the American but falls for the Russian. From Tyrol to Thailand the players, lovers, politicians, CIA and KGB make their moves to the pulse of this monumental rock score. Several numbers, including "One Night in Bangkok" and "I Know Him So Well", are international hits.
The president of the International Chess Federation—known as "The Arbiter" for his role as the tournament's referee—speculates on the origins of the game of chess before announcing the location of the upcoming world chess championship: the northern Italian town of Merano. As the townsfolk prepare for the occasion, the current world chess champion, Frederick "Freddie" Trumper of the United States, arrives with his second and implied lover: Hungarian-born, English-raised Florence Vassy. In their hotel room, Florence remarks on the press's portrayal of Freddie in a negative light because of his bad boy attitude and brash behaviour. Regardless of Florence's wish that he control his temper, Freddie heads off to a press conference where he immediately assaults a journalist who questions his relationship with Florence. Freddie's Russian challenger, Anatoly Sergievsky, as well as Alexander Molokov, Anatoly's second (and a KGB agent), watch Freddie with curiosity and disdain on television. Afterwards, Anatoly, now alone, laments the selling out of his dreams and ambitions to get to where he is today.
The opening ceremony features the U.S. and Soviet delegates each vowing their side will win, The Arbiter insisting on a fair and clean game, and marketers looking to make a profit. During the increasingly intense match, Freddie suddenly bursts out of the arena, leaving the chessboard on the floor and Florence to pick up the pieces with Anatoly, Molokov, and The Arbiter, whereby she promises to bring Freddie and Anatoly together in order to diplomatically revive the tournament. It turns out that Freddie engineered the outburst to get a higher price from an American media company, Global Television, though Walter de Courcey—the company's agent overseeing the match and a member of Freddie's delegation—criticizes the stunt as ludicrous. Florence and Freddie consequently argue until he spitefully turns the conversation toward her missing father, believed captured by Soviet forces during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. She reflects cynically about chess and politics before heading off to the Merano Mountain Inn for the peaceful meeting she has scheduled between Freddie and Anatoly. Freddie, though, does not immediately turn up, leaving Anatoly and Florence awkwardly alone together; however, they eventually embrace as surprising romantic feelings arise before being interrupted by Freddie, who has been working out new financial terms with Global TV.
The chess tournament proceeds, culminating in a series of victories for Anatoly with only one more needed to make him winner of the entire tournament. Due to Freddie's atrocious attitude in the aftermath of his defeats, Florence finally deserts him, whereby Freddie ponders how his unhappy childhood left him the man he is today. He sends The Arbiter a letter of resignation, resulting in Anatoly's automatically becoming the new world champion. Immediately, Anatoly defects from the Soviet Union and goes to the British embassy, where he attempts to seek asylum in England. Florence, accompanying Anatoly, reflects on their strange, new-found love. Walter tips off the press as to this recent news story and they ambush Anatoly and Florence. When the mob of reporters asks Anatoly why he is deserting his country, he tells them that his land's only borders lie around his heart.
A year later, Anatoly is set to defend his championship in Bangkok, Thailand. Freddie is already there, chatting up locals and experiencing the Bangkok nightlife because he is now Global TV's special presenter for this year's championship. Florence and Anatoly are now openly lovers, and worry about Freddie's sudden reappearance as well as the impending arrival of Anatoly's estranged wife, Svetlana, from Russia, which Anatoly suspects is part of Molokov's plan to shame him into returning to the Soviet Union. Molokov, meanwhile, has trained a new protégé, Leonid Viigand, to challenge Anatoly, while spying on Anatoly and plotting his downfall.
Walter, now Freddie's boss at Global TV (and clearly a CIA agent), manipulates Freddie into embarrassing Anatoly on live TV during an uncomfortable and eventually heated interview between the two former opponents. Molokov, who indeed is responsible for Svetlana's presence in Bangkok, now blackmails her into making Anatoly lose the match. Walter, who has been promised the release of certain American agents if he can ruin Anatoly's play, informs Florence that her father is still alive though imprisoned in Russia, and that he too will be released if she can convince Anatoly to lose. Neither of these ploys work to get Anatoly to throw the game, however. As a result, Molokov and Walter team up to get Freddie to personally persuade Anatoly and Florence, knowing that Freddie is vengeful toward Anatoly and interested in winning back the love of Florence. The couple, though, refuses to negotiate with Freddie.
Svetlana and Florence talk one-on-one for the first time about their respective romantic relationships with Anatoly. Florence ultimately admits that it would be best for Anatoly to return to Svetlana and their children. Anatoly, meanwhile, is sent an anonymous letter telling him to go to Wat Pho, which he does; to his surprise, Freddie appears, having decided to merely facilitate a brilliant match, regardless of his own personal conflicts with Anatoly. Because of this new change in attitude, Freddie informs Anatoly of a significant flaw in Viigand's play that will help Anatoly win.
In the deciding game of the match, with the score at five games all, Anatoly manages to take a superb win against Viigand, and realizes that it may be the only success he can achieve in his life at this time. The victory comes even as Svetlana castigates Anatoly for wallowing in the crowd's empty praise and Florence expresses similar annoyance with him for casting aside his moral ideals. Later, Florence confesses her sentiments that he should return to his family in the Soviet Union and the pair reflects on the conclusion of their romance. Walter later approaches Florence with the news that Anatoly has defected back to the U.S.S.R., meaning that her father will certainly be released. He startlingly admits, however, that no one actually knows if her father is still alive. Florence breaks down, telling Walter that he is using people's lives for nothing, before repeating Anatoly's prior sentiments that her only borders lie around her heart.
with chorus playing multiple roles
- Frederick: arrogant, temperamental, American; 30s.
- Florence: attractive, clever confident; 30s.
- Anatoly: quiet, gentle, Russian; 40s.
- Walter: smarmy, sly, American; middle age.
- Molokov: cold, Soviet leader; middle age.
- Arbiter: no-nonsense, authoritative; middle age.
- Svetlana: domestic, dependent, Russian; 30s.
- “Prologue” — Instrumental
- “The Story of Chess” — The Arbiter and Ensemble
- “Merano” †
- “Merano" — Mayor and Ensemble
- “What a Scene! What a Joy!" — Freddie and Florence
- “Merano (Reprise)” — Ensemble
- “Commie Newspapers” — Freddie and Florence
- “Press Conference” — Freddie, Florence, and Reporters
- “Anatoly and Molokov” / “Where I Want to Be” † — Molokov, Anatoly, and Ensemble
- “Difficult and Dangerous Times” ‡ — Molokov, Walter, and Ensemble
- “The Arbiter” — The Arbiter and Ensemble
- “Hymn to Chess” — Ensemble
- “The Merchandisers” — Ensemble
- “Chess #1” — Instrumental
- “The Arbiter (Reprise)” — The Arbiter and Ensemble
- “Quartet (A Model of Decorum and Tranquility)” — Molokov, Florence, The Arbiter, and Anatoly
- “Florence and Molokov” — Molokov and Florence
- “1956 – Budapest is Rising” — Ensemble, Freddie and Florence
- “Nobody's Side” — Florence and Ensemble
- “Der Kleiner Franz” — Ensemble
- “Mountain Duet” — Florence, Anatoly, and Freddie
- “Chess #2” — Instrumental
- “Florence Quits” — Freddie and Florence
- “Pity the Child” — Freddie and Ensemble
- “Embassy Lament” — English Civil Servants
- “Heaven Help My Heart” — Florence
- “Anatoly and the Press” — Anatoly and Reporters
- “Anthem” — Anatoly and Ensemble
- “Golden Bangkok” / “One Night in Bangkok” † — Instrumental / Freddie and Ensemble
- “One More Opponent” / “You and I” † — Anatoly and Florence
- “The Soviet Machine” — Molokov and Ensemble
- “The Interview” — Walter, Freddie, and Anatoly
- “The Deal” — The Arbiter, Molokov, Svetlana, Walter, Florence, Freddie, Anatoly, and Ensemble
- “I Know Him So Well” — Florence and Svetlana
- “Talking Chess” — Anatoly and Freddie
- “Endgame” — Ensemble, Molokov, Freddie, Florence, Anatoly and Svetlana
- “You and I (Reprise)” — Florence and Anatoly
- “Finale” — Walter and Florence
Various interior and exterior settings
Violins A and B, Cello A and B, Bass, Woodwind 1 (Flute/Piccolo), Woodwind 2 (Oboe/Cor Anglais), Woodwind 3 (Clarinet 1), Woodwind 4 (Clarinet 2/Bass Clarinet), Woodwind 5 (Flute 2/Clarinet 3/Baritone Sax), Woodwind 6 (Bassoon), Horn, Trumpets 1, 2 and 3, Trombones 1 and 2, Drums, Percussion, Guitar, Keyboards 1, 2 and 3