Chess: The Musical: Romantic epic staged in Brussels from 24 to 27 November
The Brussels Light Opera Company (BLOC) presents its annual spectacular Chess: The Musical from 24 to 27 November.
The intriguing and entertaining tale of love, geopolitics and childhood abandonment is entwined with a single-minded desire to become the ultimate chess grandmaster. Its accompanied by 35 songs, including many worldwide hits, performed by a full orchestra.
Written by the collaborative talents of ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, plus musical legend Sir Tim Rice, Chess is essentially an allegorical fable set during the tail end of the Cold War in the 1980s.
Audiences will see cast members depicting fictional KGB and CIA spies, plus the odd putative double-crosser. But the action centres around two sublime chess champions, one American - Freddie Trumper - played by Leandro Fornasaro in his first role with BLOC, the other Russian - Anatoly Sergievsky - portrayed by BLOC stalwart, Andy Fisk.
The protagonists were said to have been inspired and loosely based on chess grandmasters, Bobby Fischer, Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov. The show, directed with habitual competence and flair by Rachel Bateman, begins with the two fictional men meeting at the World Chess Championship in the Italian town of Merano.
Townsfolk are lavishly preparing for the occasion; the plot throughout the musical moves energetically between Europe and Asia. Beautiful harmonies are aplenty with no stone of musical prowess left unturned in BLOC’s lengthy portfolio of talent. Fittingly, Stephanie Mareschal and Emma Quaedvlieg share the role of strong-willed, Florence Vassy, the woman at the heart of in the complicated love tussle between the two chess masters.
Blockbuster numbers and energetic dancing displays
BLOC debutante, Kay Binder, plays Sergievsky’s estranged wife, Svetlana, producing a melodious alto sound that blends with the mezzo soprano voices of Quaedvlieg and Mareschal. They perfectly deliver I Know Him So Well, which many audiences will know from the famous version by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson. Equally popular is One Night In Bangkok, which opens the second half of the show, complete with displays of acrobatic, ballet and Cossack dancing, choreographed by the indefatigable Jean Emmet.
Musical director Steven De Mesmaeker works his usual magic on the plethora of numbers, which also include Heaven Help My Heart, No Contest, Pity The Child, and The Story of Chess. Baritone PJ Brady plays unscrupulous KGB agent Alexander Molokov, while tenor Pieter Goossens interprets no-nonsense tournament referee The Arbiter. Alan Gray as match financier Walter De Corcey, singing bass, completes the main line-up. The musical is produced by Barbara Bauer, Alexander Just and Dennis Elslander.
Rachel Bateman told The Bulletin she was delighted to be asked to direct Chess this year. It has the largest ensemble of musicians in BLOC’s 47-year history, producing a vast number of complex classical and modern themed numbers. Andy Fisk, who said he was thrilled to land the part of Anatoly, added: “This is my biggest role and is certainly the most challenging role. We are all so excited to be able to go to the theatre following the pandemic. We have all taken Covid precautions of course, to stay healthy, but I do hope people will come to see us and to see Rachael’s vision brought to life.”
Tribute to BLOC veteran Andy Pimm
BLOC admitted rehearsals this year have been tinged with sadness following the passing of colleague and friend, Andy Pimm, in August of this year. Andy was a much-loved member of BLOC for many years and arguably best known for playing the lead in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. He leaves behind his wife Jane and children David, Lucy and Jacob.
BLOC veteran, Tony Lowe, said: “Andy was a man with a wonderful charitable character who played many roles in BLOC shows. Those who played alongside him will know what a joy it was to be in the company of such a cheerful, modest and talented man. For one so young to have left us was very sad.” Cast members said the performances will be a fitting tribute for their much-missed friend.
Chess: The Musical
Auderghem Cultural Centre
Boulevard du Souverain 183
Photos: BLOC cast members in rehearsal