Musical Chess postponed indefinitely. By Jeremy Gerard

The British and American producers of the musical Chess have postponed indefinitely an American production of the show, leaving in question when – and if – the musical will open in New York.

“I think it will open, and I hope it will open, because it’s a terrific show,” Tyler Gatchell, an executive producer and the general manager of the production, said yesterday. Last week Gerald Schoenfeld, president of the Shubert Organization, said that rehearsals for the Broadway production would begin in early February. Yesterday, however, the producers – Three Knights Ltd., Shubert and Robert Fox Ltd. – together cited “insurmountable scheduling difficulties” as the reason for the postponement.

“It’s nothing superdramatic,” Tim Rice, the lyricist and a producer of the show, said of the decision to postpone, in a telephone conversation yesterday from London. “We were keen to get it in this season, but we were cutting it a little fine,” Mr Rice said the primary obstacles to a Spring opening were construction of the set and fitting the rehearsal period to the schedule of the show’s director, Trevor Nunn.

From the outset, however, Chess – which has been running in London since May 1986 – has had trouble getting to Broadway. It is Mr Rice’s first show since he and the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber went their separate ways after Evita, in 1979. In addition to the lyrics, Mr Rice wrote the original book for Chess, to music by two Swedish composers, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. The three also formed a partnership, Three Knights Ltd., to co-produce the show. Chess has almost repaid its London investment.

Change of directors

The original director, Michael Bennett, withdrew because of illness after several months of work on the London production. (Mr Bennett died in July, 1987.) Mr Nunn, who was co-directing the London and New York productions of Les Misérables and staging Starlight Express, took over.

For the Broadway production, Mr Rice rewrote the book with Richard Nelson and added several new songs. The show seemed to be headed for a Broadway opening this season, but the exact date had been a matter of debate for more than a year. Mr Rice acknowledged that while coordinating the British, Swedish and American interests in the show was a complex matter, it was nothing compared with fitting the director’s schedule to a Broadway timetable. Mr Nunn, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, is one of the busiest directors in the industry.

A dispute emerged over whether the show would try out on the road before coming to New York, or open “cold” on Broadway as it had in London. “Trevor Nunn was happy to have a longer rehearsal in New York and open there,” Mr Rice said. Shubert, however, wanted Chess to have an out-of-town tryout, preferably at the National Theater in Washington, which it runs. “I would have been happy with an out-of-town tryout or not,” Mr Rice said.

Chess marks Mr Rice’s first venture in producing. “I would like to have come in nine months ago,” he said of the American production. With vague talk of a fall 1988 production, he must now consider the possibility of finding a new director if Mr Nunn is not available.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” Mr Rice said. “In retrospect, I think the less people you get involved, the better. The barrier of the Atlantic has not been conductive to doing the show.” Transcribed for ABBA World

The New York Times · Thursday, 31 December 1987 (Page C11)

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