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22 August 2013 @ 01:26 am
Chess - WIP Personal Act 1  
Somewhat large post here. Sorry about that.

So, in that ever-going quest to find the "perfect Chess", I've cut together a mixtape of sorts of a work-in-progress Act 1 I've been tinkering with. Figured I should share it for anyone who wants to take a listen.

Download here!

You'll have to forgive the fact that there's obviously some different casts going on here- I limited myself strictly to studio recordings for the sound quality, and though I tried to keep to the concept album (my favorite recording) as much as possible, some tracks made that impossible (like the "Press Conference"). So there's some mixing and matching going on here. I also tried to cut the existing stuff to fit my plan of the songs, and though some of the cuts are fairly seamless, there's some really awkward and noticeable stuff that got left in. I also mixed in some 'embellishments' on two of the tracks...see if you can spot where they are (hint: one of them is in "Nobody's Side").

So with the recording things out of the way, let's talk about this version, shall we? To start, here's the track listing:

1 - Agadit Till Bergshagen
2 - Overture
3 - Prologue: The Story of Chess/Where I Want to Be
4 - Merano - Freddy's Entrance
5 - The Russian and Molokov
6 - The American and Florence - Nobody's Side
7 - The Opening Ceremony
8 - Chess
9 - Quartet (A Model of Decorum and Tranquility)
10 - Mountain Duet
11 - Press Conference
12 - Florence Quits - A Taste of Pity
13 - Embassy Lament
14 - Anthem

Some general notes. My Act 1 pretty much follows the layout of Chess På Svenska until the Opening Ceremony, after which it more follows London with some pretty obvious differences.The recording as is runs about an hour long- I'm going into this with the assumption that the end result will be a book musical ranging somewhere between 2 1/2 to 3 hours, though most of the real "meat" will come in the second act. The plot basically follows Svenska through act one, with minor changes and deviations to accommodate some of the London songs (most of it should be pretty easy to figure out through the tracks below, though). Act two is a whole other beast (though I'm not close to being presentable there).

Some specific track notes. "Agadit Till Bergshagen" (from the 8-track demo) is included here purely because I really like it. I don't really intend to seriously use it in the story and just kinda like it as a bit of pre-show music, as it were. So feel free to skip that if you're not in the mood for some good 80s pop. The "Prologue" runs as it is in Svenska, with an Anatoly/Svetlana scene leading to Anatoly singing "Story of Chess" to his son. "The Opening Ceremony" runs as is, with the idea being that each member of the event takes the center stage for about two minutes before finally going to the Chess match, but there's something I wanted to do that I can't with the recordings, which is to merge the three numbers together at the end. This would be done with "The Arbiter (Reprise)" as a base, as you here it here, with "No one can deny that these are difficult times" slotted in between the Arbiter's verses. It's somewhat difficult to explain, I may record myself demonstrating it if anyone's interested.

Now, I think the main thing that'll jump out to a lot of people is the placement of "Press Conference" late in the act. The idea here is that Freddy has an interview scheduled at the inn and after seeing Florence and Anatoly together is thrown off his game, leading to the punch-out at the end. Florence and Anatoly come back into the inn, Florence shoving off the reporters and trying one last time to reach out to Freddy, but he completely lashes out at her in anger and grief, leading to her leaving him once and for all.

Script-wise, there's an obvious hole here between "Quartet" and "Mountain Duet". It's tempting to say "oh, I'll just put a book scene there", but a song might work well here. I flirted with including a shortened "Florence and Molokov" leading into "How Many Women", but I couldn't cut it in a way that sounded presentable. But that is an option, as it slotting in something like the bar scene from Svenska (but no "Someone Else's Story") or something like that. But there does need to be space between the two songs there, either through book, song, or both.

One final note- I didn't think to add it at the time, but as I look at it now there really should be another chess match in between "A Taste of Pity" and "Embassy Lament". So those of you who have the Danish cast can just slide in "Chess No. 2" right in between those two.

So, whew. That's basically all I have to say on my mixtape. Any comments, suggestions, critiques, etc.? Any and all comments are welcome- this is strictly a WIP, and I'm always happy to hear some alternate ideas and suggestions thrown about.
zédille: Pooh and pigletzedille on August 22nd, 2013 09:23 am (UTC)
Welcome to talking_chess! :) and thanks for sharing your work, and hopefully prompting some discussion later once people are awake again. This community is sadly rather inactive these days, and this is just the type of thing we need.

Overall, this is definitely a solid, well-reasoned Act 1 variant, and I'm looking forward to seeing how you tackle Act II and all the potential pitfalls there. Though I would like to point out that there are certain show recordings that have very decent quality (soundboards, etc.) even if obviously they can't match studio albums. I should know.

Kudos for indicating that Anatoly's family exists from the beginning, so the "he has a wife" doesn't come out of nowhere/Plot Device Land in Act II (this is a particular personal grudge of mine -- I'm rather fond of the two versions which include Svetlana from the top of the show, but I understand that's a rather large departure for most). Also, how old is the son (is he still named Misha here?) -- that might end up altering the audience's perception of Anatoly's actions. Oh, and on the spectrum from Tommy Körberg to Josh Groban, where is Anatoly? (for that matter, do you have anyone in mind for the rest of the characters, particularly Florence? In the Anatoly-Svetlana scene, I assume we get the "their marriage is failing" perception set up there -- so is Svetlana particularly angry/shrewish à la Chess på Svenska, or...?)

The merging of the Opening Ceremony songs sounds rather like something the American productions did? (I can't find a sample audio atm) though of course you're just doing it with the reprises and not the entire song. (Shortening each of the Opening Ceremony sections isn't something I personally would choose to do, because I love them all too much, with the exception of Merchandisers, but it makes sense to get to the chess matches faster.)

I do like what you did with the Press Conference placement -- it is different from the "standard" London order, but it's put to good use, and places more of the Freddie-Florence drama in the public eye instead of having it all take place in private like it tends to happen. Also, it seems a bit reminiscent of Broadway/the American productions' Act II Pity the Child setup where Freddie is having an interview with a reporter, Florence interrupts, and they have a ~scene~ in front of the reporter.

Oh, right, and this is a mixtape more focused on songs than book scenes, but I want to ask if all the "negotiations" scenes are still in? The bits where Molokov and Florence are arguing about how many people each delegation is allowed; the number of rest days; sunglasses; chairs; etc (I just posted about it on Tumblr which is why it came to mind). It's good context for the whole yogurt business, which is in itself a nice detail for the Freddie Act I hissyfit.
docflynn: pic#121685641docflynn on August 23rd, 2013 07:08 am (UTC)
Thank you for your comment!

Yeah, I've always been frustrated at the concept album choosing to use Svetlana as a sudden second-act reveal, as it both cheapens Anatoly and sets the precedent for so many versions of the show to minimize her and basically just treat her as a plot device. Especially since I've always found her to be potentially one of the most interesting characters of the show- I'm definitely planning on using her in a big way in my second act (and to answer the Svenska question, I'm calming the scene, and her character, down more. Svenska's interpretation of the character is one of the few things I actively dislike about that version, though I acknowledge it solves a lot of issues in terms of the central triangle. Nonetheless, I'm aiming more towards the original conception of a sort of resigned dignity, though I'm thinking they're gonna be outright divorced or at least separated at the beginning to make the eventual romance with Florence less morally questionable).

As to characters, I've not really decided on a set age for the son, but Anatoly is definitely more towards the Körberg side of things- I've always thought that he really needs to be in his 40s for his character to work effectively. For the other characters age-wise, Svetlana is around the age of Anatoly, Florence is 35, and Freddie is 27. I don't have people in mind for the roles, though Sjölholm and Körberg are my favorite Florence and Anatoly, so take that as you will.

As to the Opening Ceremony, I suppose it's similar to how the American productions tend to do it, but also not...I'll probably do a quick recording sometime to show what I mean. As to the length, I've long felt the concept album had the lengths of the songs just about perfect, with London's inflation of them bordering on the ridiculous. So as a bit of a time saver and because I honestly do prefer the songs as they are here I just went and used the concept album lengths (with the exception of "Merchandisers", which lost a verse because I find the song really wears thin after a while). I didn't include the negotiations scenes at all, though- in part because I'm not particularly huge on them (though Sydney and Broadway's are done pretty well) and also because I wanted the hubbub before the match to be done all in song. Including a scene in there lessens the feel of all these people making such an ostentatious show out of this match, I think.

And with "Press Conference", yeah, there's definitely some of that going on as well, though in my head the "Florence Quits" section happens in private- it could really be done either way, depending on one's preference.
zédille: Pooh and pigletzedille on August 23rd, 2013 08:21 am (UTC)
Yeah, Svetlana gets treated too often as a plot device (a lazy way to add ~angst~ and ~drama~ to the Act II Florence/Anatoly relationship) instead of a character in her own right, which is my biggest complaint with London Chess, where she explicitly has children -- in what world is it in their best interest for Anatoly to stay with Florence?

*takes deep breath and gets off soapbox, we are in agreement :P* But anyhow, I'm glad you're taking a more conscious approach to the whole business, and avoiding the pitfalls of Chess på Svenska's characterization. It sounds like your take should avoid some of the more jarring ~SUDDEN FAMILY EXPANSION PACK~ problems, especially if the marriage is explicitly stated as failing. (Though if they're divorced, would Svetlana's draw in Act II be reduced?)

Yeah, Anatoly definitely needs an older actor to really be convincing. Körberg, as the original, remains the classic, but I'm also quite fond of Stig Rossen's Anatoly from the Danish production, who's a more "dignified" and less in-your-face angry type of Anatoly.

Sydney also did a pretty good job in keeping the Opening Ceremony sequence [relatively] short and getting quickly to the chess, though I also like how they intercut the chess game with Merchandisers, which kept the song relevant while moving the show along -- I like what the song adds to the show (the tone/commentary) more than the song itself, and I think the whole Negotiations sequences (or Walter's final line about the sponsors of the match) kind of work as a thematic substitute for that sequence.

While I'm on the topic, what kind of Arbiter are you envisioning? (He is my second-favorite character; I'm sure you can figure out who my first favorite is). There's Bjorn Skifs and Tom Jobe in the original London mold; the .... thoroughly excitable Chess på Svenska mold; the bitterly, viciously snarky Sydney Arbiter..... There's a lot of fun to be had with him!
docflynn: pic#121685641docflynn on September 6th, 2013 06:59 am (UTC)
Late reply here, sorry 'bout that.

And the plan here is that Anatoly still has some residual feelings for Svetlana. I feel like he's in a bit of a mid-life crisis through the show, completely unsure of who he is and what he wants, so though their marriage is/has been falling apart steadily, there's a part of him still longing for that life. Plus the children complicate things (though I have no clue how exactly I'm handling that...I think the true difficulty with Chess is that the plot absolutely demands Anatoly to do things that are rather selfish- first defecting to Britain without his family, and then winning a chess match despite the pressures it puts on those around him. So it's difficult to try and make that character work and make him likeable without resorting to the Broadway/på Svenska route of having Freddy win the match).

As to the Arbiter, I'm mostly going by what I had first envisioned him to be (and what I suspect was intended in the concept album)- a bit of a joke character who takes every chance he can to be in the center of the spotlight and dominate the proceedings. There's a host of reasons for this (one being that I just happen to like the character this way), but the main one is that I feel this is the best way for the character to work effectively when he's not being used as the narrator of the show. Were I to do a version where he was narrator (and I actually have one tinkering around in my mind as a bit of a side-project to this one) he'd probably be more in line to the Sydney Arbiter.
zédille: Pooh and pigletzedille on September 6th, 2013 08:20 am (UTC)
Don't worry about the late response, and please don't feel obligated to keep up the conversation if you haven't the inclination or time :)

Hm, I think the "point' of London Anatoly is that he does these selfish, unkind things, and you're supposed to appreciate/admire his strength of will to do what he wants and go through with it, despite everyone else's opinion and attempts to influence him. He's not a nice person, and you're not necessarily supposed to like him or approve of what he does, but ultimately he finds that strength of will to do what he will, and damn the consequences to the others. I guess, given the show's setup and all the consequences pegged involved, there simply might not be any way to make him likeable while still winning the match. Tommy Körberg's portrayal of Anatoly probably also helps in creating this perception.

And hm, yes, the concept album (and particularly the Arbiter music video!) do give that impression of the background-scenery type Arbiter. (and på Svenska kind of picked up on that note again, haha.) So then will you be dropping the Arbiter-narration sequence in The Deal? It's not as developed in London as it is in other versions ie Sydney, but from an in-story POV that part is the most difficult to reconcile with the self-centered Arbiter, since it implies that he knows what's happening around the tournament. (which is why I've always speculated that the Arbiter pretty much has people spying on everyone, but ahem. *coughs*)
docflynn: pic#121685641docflynn on September 7th, 2013 11:18 am (UTC)
Yeah, I see Anatoly very much in the way you describe him...the only issue is I've never been convinced that character entirely 'works', and I think there's something missing in him that, if found, would make those elements click together. It's one of the persistent puzzles I've been attempting to sort out in the second act (the other major one being Svetlana).

And if I retain "The Deal" in the second act, it'll just be as it is on the concept album, with the Freddy/Anatoly bit and then Freddy/Florence leading into "Pity the Child". Truth be told I've never particularly cared for the expanded number (blasphemy, I know) and it rubs against some particular character interpretations I'm trying to go for. Also I'm not certain if I'm even going to retain anything on Florence's father, so that would cut half the scenes right there.
zédille: Pooh and pigletzedille on September 7th, 2013 09:07 pm (UTC)
My problem with the London/Tommy Körberg-model Anatoly (selfish, self-absorbed, but with extreme strength of will) is that I can't entirely understand his relationship with Florence in Act I. As I understand him, he's not sentimental/romantic enough to really be interested in pursuing Florence. Unless, idk, he was tired of his home life with Svetlana (ie with children) and wanted another try at having a relationship, without that added burden?

Though yeah, Svetlana is the character I spend all my time ranting about, so apologies if I sound a bit preachy. This is probably a question better left to your Act II discussion, but if you're cutting the extended Deal sequence, you're also losing the Svetlana-Anatoly interaction there, where she actually gets to be angry and vent to Anatoly about his treatment of her. So I hope you're adding in some other kind of Anatoly-Svetlana confrontation scene, maybe drawn from one of the other versions? (I do like the Broadway/American/Sydney [to a lesser extent] You and I sequence, even if there Svetlana is sad rather than angry with Anatoly). Svetlana's attitude in I Know Him So Well has always irritated me (she's not even a little angry? and she disregards her child(ren)'s interests entirely?), but it annoys me less
when it's tempered with a Svetlana acting for her own interests.

I am looking forward to seeing how you do Act II, though!

docflynn: pic#121685641docflynn on September 8th, 2013 07:38 am (UTC)
Act II is likely going to be very book-heavy and there will without a doubt be at least two or three Anatoly/Svetlana scenes. In terms of songs, I'm almost definitely going to be using the "You and I" reprise bit from Broadway, as I'm quite fond of it and it fits in with the whole "quiet resignation" that I feel defines her character. Though, as you say, having children really does complicate matters and it'll be difficult to really reconcile that and the affair with Florence with any sort of resignation.

I'm also debating resetting "Apukad" as a lullaby sung by the both of them, likely to their child, as a bit of a reconciliation moment for them. Though, naturally, the lyrics would have to be Russian and not Hungarian.
zédille: Pooh and pigletzedille on September 8th, 2013 08:23 am (UTC)
Broadway's Svetlana goes with the "quiet resignation" angle, I agree, and if you're consistent with that take (unlike London with its somewhat angrier Where I Want to Be angle, though I just realized that is a matter of interpretation by the actress, and it's possible to run that "sadly" instead of "angrily") then I have fewer objections.

And hm, I think if you separate the affair (adultery, breaking marriage, an insult to Svetlana personally) from the defection (Anatoly running away from his responsibilities to his family), that might be easier to work with? Like at this point Svetlana is resigned to Anatoly's philandering ways, so she wouldn't mind the affair itself that much, except for the fact that he up and defected, which is a separate thing she's angry about.

And ooh, Apukad as a lullaby sung to the Sergievsky Kid would be a fun twist. And especially if you're cutting the whole Florence's father subplot.... it is a nice piece of music.
primeideal.dreamwidth.org: ravenclaw eagleprimeideal.dreamwidth.org on August 23rd, 2013 03:48 am (UTC)
Is "Nobody's Side" that early in other productions? I'm not familiar with most of them, haha--here it sounds like Florence griping about the opening ceremony fallout? Actually, I remember another version (but now I can't think of which) that frustrated me because it had two Florence griping songs back to back and I was like "spread it out, we get the picture." I did like the version of putting "Press Conference" late, but it really depends on how the chess games are scheduled/scored with respect to that. And agreed with zedille that having Anatoly's family not come from out of the blue would be nice.

Very cool, thanks for sharing! :)
docflynn: pic#121685641docflynn on August 23rd, 2013 07:11 am (UTC)
Thanks for the comment! "Nobody's Side" is placed here as it is in Chess På Svenska- the first half of the act follows that ordering (reason being that it sets up the main three as characters effectively and doesn't spend too much time getting to the match). The setting for the song would be as it is in Svenska, where Florence goes on a bit of a bender after fighting with Freddy.

And I think it's the Sydney production you're thinking of, which melds "Florence and the American" with "How Many Women".