Using as a metaphor the world of international chess, Tim
Rice originally conceived to write a musical about how the Cold
War affected the lives of all those it touched. The story revolves
around the romantic triangle that develops when an American chess
champion and his lover travel to Merano to defend his title against
a Russian opponent who secretly plans to defect to the West.
Rice originally approached Andrew Lloyd Webber to write the
score, but his former partner was already committed to other
projects. Then, in 1981, producer Richard Vos introduced Rice
to Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, two members of ABBA who
were looking to branch out into musical theatre. The team immediately
set about creating a concept album. Two numbers from the album
did well in the charts. "One Night in Bangkok" first
appeared on the UK charts on November 10, 1984 and stayed there
for 13 weeks, at one point reaching the #12 spot. In the US,
it jumped to #9 in April of 1985 and topped the charts in France,
Australia, Belgium, Austria, South Africa, Denmark, Israel, West
Germany, Switzerland, Holland and Sweden as well. Another single,
"I Know Him So Well," followed, eventually reaching
#1 on the UK charts during its 16 week run. With Chess already
a worldwide phenomenon before it had even opened, expectations
were high. The London production opened in the West End on May
14, 1986 and ran for three years, but the high tech spectacle
never managed to make back its initial investment
The show was drastically altered before moving to Broadway.
Instead of having the show completely "sung-through"
as it had been in London, Director Trevor Nunn chose to bring
in playwright Richard Nelson to write a book for the show. Rice
also added several new songs including "Someone Else's Story."
The Broadway production opened at the Imperial Theatre on April
28, 1988 with an entirely new cast, but it proved even less of
a commercial success than its predecessor, losing $6 million
dollars and closing after only 68 performances. A later concert,
however, which featured the Broadway cast at Carnegie Hall was
a huge success, and there continue to be reports that Tim Rice
plans to mount another Broadway production of Chess.