Chess LP precedes show - Chess LP selling big in Europe: Rice to produce show in London

“First the album, then the show” is a production strategy that has worked well for Tim Rice in the past so his making use of it again. The English lyricist, co-author of two huge hits, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, is preparing to produce a stage version in London next fall of his latest project, Chess, which has become a top-selling record album, with hit singles also, in Europe and is moving up the charts in the U.S.

Rice co-wrote Chess, which uses an international chess championship match as a metaphor for U.S.-Russia power politics, in collaboration with Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, the songwriters and the two of the four performers of ABBA, the hugely popular Swedish group.

Since its release in Europe last October, the RCA double-album Chess has been a huge seller, per Rice, in New York briefly last week to scout potential directors for the stage version. The album has sold some 225,000 units in Sweden and another 200,000 in Germany, and is also at or near the top of the charts in Belgium and France.

Two singles from the score, One Night in Bangkok and I Know Him So Well, are also fast sellers, the former in second place on British charts. It’s also moving upward on U.S. music trade charts.

“So far, Chess as an album has been much bigger in Europe than Superstar or Evita,” says Rice.

He conceived the chess-match idea about 1979 but says he aroused little interest from composers until he took it to Andersson and Ulvaeus, moved to Stockholm where they’re based and wrote the song cycle beginning in late 1982.

Polar Music, puberty controlled by ABBA, financed the production off the album at about $225,000 in return for Scandinavian rights and a percentage of overall sales. British name performers including Elaine Paige and Murray Head recorded the album in Stockholm.

Rice thereupon made an international distribution deal with RCA Records, which paid the creators an advance of $1,100,000.

Establish the tunes

“We are creating a situation whereby people will eventually go to the show wanting to hear certain songs,” says Rice. With a London production in November, there will be a shorter time span between the release of the album and the stage production than was the case with both Superstar and Evita.

“I think a show has to have hit singles, and we’ve got two so far. It creates anticipation which you don’t get otherwise.”

As for the actual work process, Rice thinks creating the record before putting the show on the stage is helpful. “When you make a record you go flat out to make the score. You have more time to concentrate on the material and you’re not distracted by the production details of the show. You have greater freedom as a writer.”

Existence of the full score doesn’t mean the show is frozen. “Nothing on the album is sacred,” says Rice, acknowledging the authors will have to react to the ideas of the eventual director. “We haven’t even decided yet if the show will be all songs, or if there will be dialog.”

The London/st1:place> premiere will be produced by Three Knits Ltd., production company formed by Rice, Andersson and Ulvaeus, and Rice expects it to cost about £1,000,000 (about $1,100,000 at current exchange rates), with financing coming from private investors.

As to an eventual Broadway production, that’s a strong likelihood, but no decision has been made about a U.S. producer. Both the Schubert and Nederlander Organizations are eagerly interested. Transcribed for ABBA World

Variety (New York) · Wednesday, 13 March 1985 (Pages 117 & 120)

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