Title - 'Chess - The Concert' (Reprise Records)
Artist - Josh Groban
"Chess" is one of the most revised and re-revised shows in history. Beginning with the original concept album in 1984, the show went through a slightly altered London production, then a drastically altered Broadway version (which tanked), and numerous international productions since then, most of which combined songs and plot elements from both the London and New York productions. Still, Tim Rice seems to have wanted to present a "definitive" version, and so we have 'Chess in Concert', presented in London's Royal Albert Hall in 2008.
This version features some of today's brightest young stars from Broadway and the West End: Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal, Kerry Ellis, and Marti Pellow, as well as baritone crooner Josh Groban as Anatoly. Overall the cast is excellent, although Menzel's vocal stylings will perhaps not be to everyone's taste. She does, however, capture Florence's vulnerabilities quite well, and is an excellent vocal belter.
Kerry Ellis has the pleasure of singing "Someone Else's Story", now a song for Svetlana, whose character has been greatly expanded. She approaches the role with grace and a firm vocal confidence. "Rent" veteran Adam Pascal makes an excellent Freddie, capturing both his sleaziness and rather pathetic narcissism. Marti Pellow, the former UK pop star, takes on the role of the Arbiter, although he plays it coolly and with almost too much subtlety. Finally, Josh Groban is superb as Anatoly, his "Anthem" bringing down the Act I curtain with an inspirational and moving performance.
The CD includes most of the show as presented on the DVD, with some minor deletions of dialogue (the part of Walter has been drastically reduced), and most of the explicit language is retained, except for Freddie's use of the "f" word in Act II. I mention this only because there is no Parental Advisory sticker on the CD, so listeners who might be offended should take note.
Overall this is the most complete version of Chess yet recorded, and though nothing could ever replace the original concept album, it does stand on its own merits and hopefully will introduce this exciting and stirring pop opera to a new generation of listeners. [JMP]