Six year journey

6-year Chess move: Idea to Broadway for Chess tuner. By Kevin Zimmerman

The transition from major pop band-members to major Broadway composers has been a long but pleasant experience for Swedish songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn UIvaeus. After racking up a number of international pop hits with their group ABBA, the pair last week saw the opening of Chess on Broadway, a collaboration with lyricist Tim Rice.

Andersson took time out from the cast album recording sessions to explain how he and his partner became involved in one of the season’s most anticipated musicals.

“We were approached by Tim in December of 1981 about the project,” he said.

“He had heard through the grapevine that we were interested in writing music for the theater. He’s always been something of a pop freak, actually, and he thought maybe we could take a couple years off from ABBA to work on what he described as a love story with chess as a background metaphor.”

Little did they know this ”couple of years” would blossom into approximately six, effectively bringing ABBA to an end. “We spent most of 1982 discussing ideas,” Andersson said. “Then we began writing the music, sending it back to Tim for the lyrics. We recorded the original album in Autumn of 1984, which was very successful.”

It was from this album that the international hit One Night In Bangkok and the European hit I Know Him So Well (now being eyed for U.S. release) originated.

“It had been done this way before,” Andersson said about the practice of releasing the show album before the show had opened. “Tim had done it with Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar. And we of course felt more comfortable in the studio, having no experience on the stage before. It was easier to work on changes in the studio that it would have been after i>Chess opened.” The show opened in London in May 1986, transferring to Broadway last week with what the composer describes as “very minor” changes.

“The main difference between London and here is that in London there is only about two or three minutes of spoken dialog. Here, in order to clarify some of the points, it is almost one-third dialog.”

‘Gratifying’ project

Andersson found the Chess experience gratifying, “I’d love to do another, though not necessarily one that would take six years to complete,” he said. “After we complete the cast album I’m going to take the Summer off to spend with my family. After that I don’t know exactly what Björn and I will be doing.”

As for the Broadway reviews, many of which have been lukewarm at best, Andersson takes a stoical view. “I really don’t know why they don’t like it,” he said. “It’s impossible for me to say. I do know that most of the audiences so far stand up and cheer for everyone at the end. They appear to get emotionally involved with the show, and they really like it. Let’s hope that they are right, and not the critics.” Transcribed for ABBA World

Variety (New York) · Wednesday, 4 May 1988 (Pages 553 & 556)


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