Okay, first of all, screw everyone who thinks wanting to see musicals makes me gay. I'm not, and I'm willing to jump Andi on a webcam to prove it. That being said, I grew up hearing a lot of music throughout my childhood. I hated my mother, and celebrate regularly the fact that she died (hopefully painfully), but of the very small and few things she did for me as I grew up the best one is that she gave me an appreciation of a wide variety of music. That's a topic I haven't really touched on a great deal across any of my blogsites, and at some point I'll dedicate an entire post to that specific subject. For now, I'll discuss the music I listened to most frequently, and where I'm leading with this.
We had one of those humongous stereo systems back in the 70's. Kept it until we moved in 2005, if I'm not mistaken. You know the type: It looked like a buffet, the size of this thing, and took up the space of a loveseat. Had a lid that was hinged, and could be kind of propped up by a bar that worked only half the time. Was a grand old piece of tech that slowly stopped working so well in the 80s and 90s, as you'd expect, but even though it would take almost ten minutes to warm up and play, I still used it until I got my first boombox. Yes, I typed boombox there, and the description of that piece of equipment will wait until that other music post.
The stereo sat in the living room (for a semi-detailed floor plan of Denham, refer to the Autobiography blog from the links on the right column), and was fairly central to the house, so the whole house heard whatever was played on it. I used to play all the "Hooked On Classics" albums on it, but I always went back to the first three albums I really heard on that stereo: "Bugsy Malone," "The Music Man" and "Sweet Charity." I still have those three albums, along with every other album I ever owned from childhood on up (including "Thriller," if you can believe it), but now have them on CD as well. I saw the first in theatres when the movie first came out, saw the second one onstage via the Scarborough Choral Society, and saw the third on television a few times. So, as you can see, I was listening and watching good musicals from an early age.
Things haven't changed much since then, except for the fact that the choice to see a musical nowadays is mine and mine alone. I own "West Side Story" on DVD, along with "South Pacific" and "Oklahoma." "The Music Man" is in there too, and so is "Brigadoon." When "Chicago" came out in theatres, I saw that and fell in love with it; it can be found in my collection as well. "Phantom Of The Opera" was the first big ticket theatre experience I paid for from my own money back in the 80s during it's first ever run at the Toronto Pantages, just after the theatre was restored from being the Imperial Six movie house, and I still like the original British stage production soundtrack over the movie's. And, of course, there is "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," which if you know me you know goes down as one of my favourite movies of all time.
However, through all of these wonderful titles, classic and modern (okay, not modern, but not 'heady days of the 50s musical' either), one title has affected me more than any other...and yet it has never come to Toronto as a big production (if it isn't playing on Yonge St. or King St. West, it isn't a big production), and it's never been made into a movie. Yet, the music is arguably the best in any musical, including "Mamma Mia," since it was written by the same duo who did all the music for that incredible hit. Wondering what musical you somehow missed that I know about? Please, read on...
Back in 1984, I was only really discovering my long-term tastes in musical style and genre. I still state to this day that that particular year, 1984, is the best year musically I've ever enjoyed. During that summer, on the old 1050 CHUM Top 30 lists in the newspapers, there were three weeks solid where I knew and adored each and every song on those lists. Never happened before that year, never happened after that year, will likely never happen again. Sometime during that year, earlier than the summer if I remember correctly (unless the following story occurred the summer of 1985, which is entirely possible), a song sung by someone named Murray Head. The song was called "One Night In Bangkok," and I fell in love with it. So much so, that I got my grandmother to take me to Sam The Record Man's store on Yonge Street (that's right, the old flagship store with the famous record logo) to find the cassette it was on (I had by now moved to cassette tapes). To my surprise, it was on a double cassette set called "Chess" and it was about $45! Well, that ixnayed that purchase in a hurry! I left the store downtrodden by the fact that it was such an expensive purchase, but kept in mind that I wanted to get it at some point.
I don't know for certain how things progressed from there, but I think I started doing my shoplifting thing a couple of years later. For a while it was high times for me, swiping everything i wanted that wasn't nailed down. I grabbed classical music, books, games...and this was around the same time that "Phantom Of the Opera" came out and was getting ready to come to Toronto. It was around this period that I swiped my first copy of "Chess." And, it was only after I did so that I became aware that this was a musical written by Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, the two male members of ABBA, with lyrics written by Tim Rice who collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber on most of his pre-Phantom musicals. I was thrilled, because not too long after this I heard that a production of "Chess" was coming to Toronto! Since I had just gotten a hold of my Phantom tickets, and I knew that the "Chess" tickets would be cheaper (due to a lesser theatre holding the performances), I was all ready to go - but before I could scrounge up the cash, the production was cancelled, and it resulted in the show never coming to Canada the way it did to Broadway. I personally feel that the reason it never did come to Canada is that they were planning on doing the Broadway version of the show, which changed the locations of certain songs and overall didn't have the punch the original British version had, especially since they changed the storyline to satisfy American audiences.
Many years later, in the 90s, a production of the show did in fact come to Toronto. It played in a little theatre downtown, and I actually had the opportunity to do volunteer work assisting building the sets (which came about when I went to buy tickets and they mentioned in passing that they needed people to aide getting the show running). I hated that experience, due to the manner in which the work was being done, and the ultimate quality of what was going to be onstage. It was a shitty little production, following the Broadway version of the musical, and it wasn't worthy of the music or the pedigree of the writers. As it turned out, the guy who sold me the tickets and ran the building of the set pieces also was the lead actor, if that gives you any idea of how pathetic the end result turned out to be. However, at least I (kind of) saw the show live, on stage. I feel that it just isn't enough, though. I would still like to see the original storyline, though I know for a fact that Benny and Bjorn have altered the production from it's original form over the years.
Currently, there are rumours of a major revival of "Chess" being planned for Broadway, but there is nothing concrete about it. The musical has been released as a virtually 'spoken-word-free' production in 2009 on DVD as well, but I'd love it if the whole "Phantom" movie treatment were done for this. I know the critical reviews of the American version were horrible (due again to the alteration of the production for those audiences - the U.S. won't even allow the original production to be performed within it's borders, I shit you not), but there has always been a loyal following to the original concept album, and it is to those supporters that I strongly appeal too: Band together, get the word out, and push someone to get a movie off the ground for this incredible score!
I've done my part. Links to all things "Chess," not including any of the Broadway alterations, and a plea for a movie. All I can still do is tweet this on Twitter, and I will do so as usual once I post the article. Hearing that "Chess" could be a movie would be one hell of a 40th birthday present for me next month, wouldn't you say?