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Music / Chess (1984)
aka: Chess

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"The game is greater than its players."

"It really doesn't matter who comes out on top, who gets the chop;
no one's way of life is threatened by a flop.
But we're gonna smash that bastard!
Make him wanna change his name!
Take him to the cleaners and devastate him!
Wipe him out, humiliate him!
We don't want the whole world saying
'They can't even win a game!'
We have never reckoned on coming second;
There's no use in losing!"
— "U.S. versus U.S.S.R." (also called "Difficult and Dangerous Times")

A Rock Opera with music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA and with book and lyrics by Tim Rice. It was originally produced as a successful Concept Album, released in 1984 through Polar Records in Scandinavia and RCA Records abroad, then became a West End production, and eventually reached Broadway. Each version of the show underwent changes in story and music; Rice considers the most recent version, performed in concert at Royal Albert Hall in 2008, to be the official one. A new revival with a restructured storyline was planned to hit Broadway in late 2018, but it only had pre-Broadway trials at Kennedy Center.

The plot of each version has about this much in common: it concerns the World Chess Championships set against the backdrop of the Cold War. There's the brash American champion Freddie Trumper, the reserved Russian challenger Anatoly Sergievsky, and the American's second Florence Vassy who switches her affections to the Russian, even though he is married. KGB and CIA agents are working behind the scenes to ensure the most desirable outcome.

Best known for the songs "One Night in Bangkok" and "I Know Him So Well".


    Original concept album 
Side one
  1. "Merano" (6:59)
  2. "The Russian and Molokov/Where I Want to Be" (6:19)
  3. "Opening Ceremony" (9:18)
  4. "Quartet (A Model of Decorum and Tranquility)" (2:17)

Side two

  1. "The American and Florence/Nobody's Side" (5:25)
  2. "Chess" (5:44)
  3. "Mountain Duet" (4:42)
  4. "Florence Quits" (2:52)
  5. "Embassy Lament" (1:30)
  6. "Anthem" (3:03)

Side three

  1. "Bangkok/One Night in Bangkok" (5:00)
  2. "Heaven Help My Heart" (3:29)
  3. "Argument" (1:50)
  4. "I Know Him So Well" (4:16)
  5. "The Deal (No Deal)" (3:55)
  6. "Pity the Child" (5:29)

Side four

  1. "Endgame" (10:46)
  2. "Epilogue: You and I/The Story of Chess/You and I (Reprise)" (10:24)

    West End production 
Act 1
  1. "The Story of Chess"
  2. "Merano"
  3. "Commie Newspapers"
  4. "Press Conference"
  5. "The Russian and Molokov/Where I Want to Be"
  6. "Diplomats"
  7. "The Arbiter"
  8. "Hymn to Chess"
  9. "Merchandisers"
  10. "Chess #1"
  11. "The Arbiter (Reprise)"
  12. "Quartet (A Model of Decorum and Tranquility)"
  13. "Florence and Molokov"
  14. "1956 - Budapest is Rising"
  15. "Nobody's Side"
  16. "Der Kleine Franz"
  17. "Mountain Duet"
  18. "Chess #2"
  19. "Florence Quits"
  20. "Pity the Child"
  21. "Defection Scene"
  22. "Embassy Lament"
  23. "Heaven Help My Heart"
  24. "Anatoly and the Press"
  25. "Anthem"

Act 2

  1. "Golden Bangkok/One Night in Bangkok"
  2. "One More Opponent/You and I"
  3. "The Soviet Machine"
  4. "The Interview"
  5. "Someone Else's Story"
  6. "The Deal"
  7. "I Know Him So Well"
  8. "Talking Chess"
  9. "Endgame"
  10. "You and I (Reprise)"
  11. "Finale"

    Broadway production 
Act 1
  1. "Prologue"
    1. "The Story of Chess"
  2. "Freddie's Entrance"
  3. "Press Conference"
  4. "Where I Want to Be"
  5. "Argument"
  6. "Merchandisers"
  7. "Diplomats"
  8. "Chess Hymn"
  9. "Chess #1"
  10. "Quartet (A Model of Decorum and Tranquility)"
  11. "The American and Florence"
  12. "Someone Else's Story"
  13. "One Night in Bangkok"
  14. "Terrace Duet"
    1. "Who'd Ever Think It?"
  15. "Chess #2"
  16. "Florence Quits/A Taste of Pity"
  17. "Nobody's Side"
  18. "Reporters"
  19. "Anthem"

Act 2

  1. "The Arbiter"
  2. "Hungarian Folk Song"
  3. "Heaven Help My Heart"
  4. "No Contest"
  5. "You and I"
    1. "You and I"
    2. "Where I Want to Be (Reprise)"
    3. "You and I (Reprise)"
  6. "Freddie Goes Metal"
  7. "Let's Work Together"
  8. "I Know Him So Well"
  9. "Pity the Child"
  10. "Father's Lullaby"
  11. "Endgame"
  12. "You and I (Reprise)"
  13. "Finale"

The bars are temples but the tropes ain't free:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Sort of. Freddie shows up in Bangkok after a year without any contact with Florence. Anatoly suspects he's in town because of this trope, but it turns out he's working for Walter.
  • Album Title Drop: Subverted, because the only number that's specifically called Chess (in any incarnation) doesn't actually have any lyrics. When that musical theme, a serene, yet cerebral waltz, does show up blatantly (thrice, the last given words in "Endgame"), it's a sort of leitmotif for "chess for Chess' sake", to paraphrase MGM's Tag Line. "Hymn to Chess" communicates (a part of) the same idea vocally (until "Endgame", that is).
  • Alternate Character Interpretation: The Musical. Every iteration of Chess seems to have a new take on the characters and even the story.invoked
  • Ambiguously Gay: Freddie can be played this way — Anatoly calling him a fruit in early versions of "Quartet (A Model of Decorum and Tranquility)", his issue with being called queer in "Pity the Child", him physically assaulting a reporter for questioning his relationship with Florence, and the real-life chess player he was modeled after being a Boomerang Bigot certainly aren't helping his case, nor are productions that give him prominent makeup.
  • Batman Gambit: "The Deal (No Deal)" — Walter and Molokov fail since Anatoly goes on to win anyway.
  • Berserk Button: Florence tries her best to get along with anyone and everyone... as long as they don't bring up Hungary or her father.
    • The American/Freddie has more than can be easily counted. He's touchy at relationships, thinks people are cheating if they best him, and absolutely loses his shit during a television interview that dares to suggest he's not going to win.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Walter and Molokov become one in Act II, joining forces to cause as much hell for everyone else as they possibly can.
  • Big "NEVER!": Sung by Anatoly during "Endgame."
  • Break-Up Song: "Florence Quits" between Florence and Freddie and "You and I" between Florence and Anatoly.
  • Broadway Bonus Song: "Someone Else's Story"' is an interesting case. It was added for the Broadway run and given to Florence, but in later productions, it goes to Svetlana or even both of them. Some don't bother with it at all.
    • The Broadway production also adds "How Many Women," "No Contest," and "Let's Work Together," although they all borrow previously-established tunes from other versions of the score.
  • Broken Bird: Florence and Svetlana, the latter a bit more so in post-London versions.
  • BSoD Song: "Pity the Child", which owes a lot to "Judas's Death" in Jesus Christ Superstar.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Freddie is an eccentric personality, to be sure. Molokov is convinced he is a madman. Anatoly, who has considerably more insight, believes him to be a genius who has revolutionised the sport.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: The bureaucrats who process Anatoly's paperwork don't see anything special about his defection since it happens all the time.
    He's the fourth we've had since last November
  • Call-and-Response Song: Much of "One Night in Bangkok" is the chorus describing the appeals of the city, with Freddie dismissing it all and not caring for it other than the chess match that happens to take place there.
    Freddie: One town's much like any other when your head's down over your pieces, brother.
    Chorus: It's a drag, it's a bore, it's really such a pity to be looking at the board, not looking at the city.
    Freddie: What do you mean! You've seen one stinking, polluted city, you've seen them all.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Freddie's abusive father left when he was twelve and his mother took up with another man who treated them just as badly. As such, he's broken off all contact with them and pities them that they won't get to reap the benefits of his success, assuming they even know what he did with his life.
  • Captain Obvious: In "The Story of Chess" we have this:
    Chorus Member: For no one really likes their offspring fighting to the death.
  • Chess Motifs: Varies. Some productions play up the Americans as white and the Russians as black (with implications that this color scheme is about the extent of the difference),
  • The Chessmaster: Molokov and Walter. Ironically, both of the literal chessmasters are just, well, pawns.
  • Cold War: While the musical is called Chess, the Cold War and all the ploys and posturing of the US and USSR dominate much of the plot. Interestingly, they mostly do away with the whole "West good, East bad" bit that characterizes most Western stories set during the time period. (This probably has a lot to do with the main brains behind the musical being British and Swedish, as smaller nations in the middle tended to view the Cold War as two posturing giants stomping around.) Both sides have some pretty despicable people working for them and will go to any lengths to get what they want, even if it means cooperating with the other side to screw over Anatoly.
    • A more important element is that both governments are heavily invested in the championships, but without any visible motivation — they're jockeying for a win that gives neither side any material advantage. Some productions have the championship as a front for an exchange of spies.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: In the Royal Albert Hall version. America is coded as white, and the USSR as black. Freddie wears solid white, Anatoly wears a black jacket and a white shirt (and is the only chess player to switch sides during the play), and Viigand wears solid black. Fits some of the other characters too — Svetlana, the Russian, wears black; Molokov, a Russian who collaborates with the Americans, wears a gray-ish suit; Florence starts off wearing black (just before and during when she's dissatisfied with Freddie) but then switches to white after the act break (just before and during when she becomes dissatisfied with Anatoly); and Walter wears dark clothes in the first act (when he helps Anatoly defect) but white in the second (when his concerns are mostly with recovering American spies).
    • Played with in the 2001 Denmark/UK collaboration production, which stuck to the monochrome color scheme, but messed about heavily with who wore what. Anatoly was mainly featured in black, with dyed platinum-blonde hair. Splashes of color were provided by the Arbiter in black leather with red trim, and Florence in deep purple and black. Walter and Molokov both wore dark suits. Freddie's costume colors vacillated the most, between solid black, white and black, and white and gray (the snazzy white dress shoes were fairly ubiquitous throughout). Svetlana was the only non-ensemble cast member to wear solid white.
  • Concept Album: Did rather well in that it produced two hits and that garnered press attention for the show.
  • Crazy People Play Chess: And how. Freddie's obviously nuts and Anatoly may not be far behind by the end.
  • Dark Reprise: Being a Rock Opera, there are plenty of these.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Freddie in "One Night in Bangkok".
    • This is taken up to eleven in the Kennedy Center Production where the Arbiter serves as the narrator. (Definitely NOT Truth in Television - World Championship Arbiters are not exactly known for snarking but rather the opposite.)
    Arbiter: With the nuclear arms treaty well on its way to failure, the CIA teams up with the KGB for peace, love, and sabotage.
  • Depending on the Writer: Productions traditionally have alterations from the original, sometimes resulting in one version of Chess only resembling others in plot, characterization, and even music.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Most productions end with at least one character passing this point.
  • Dirty Communists: Freddie's perception of them.
    Reporter: Does your opponent deserve such abuse?
    Freddie: All Soviets deserve abuse.
    • Also Florence's perception of them, although she has changed her tune since arriving at the competition and meeting Anatoly.
  • Disappeared Dad: Florence's father was either killed or taken prisoner in 1956 and the uncertainty over his face is a driving factor of the plot. Freddie's father walked out when he was twelve and he has no warm feelings for the man.
  • Distant Duet: "You and I" was done this way in the Concept Album, but this version of staging it never really stuck for any of the productions.
    • "I Know Him So Well" is often done as one, though in the Broadway version, they meet face to face.
  • Downer Ending: The circumstances differ depending on the production, but the ending is always sad. Whether Anatoly wins or loses the match, he returns to Russia to resume a loveless marriage with his wife while Florence will never truly know what happened to her father.
  • Drunken Song: "Der Kleine Franz" and sometimes "The Soviet Machine".
    • The Deal in the Swedish version, at least for Freddie.
    • It's difficult to tell, but "One Night in Bangkok" is an aversion. Freddie/The American is drunk on anger, nothing else.
      • "One Night in Bangkok" is played straight in the 2018 Broadway production. The choreography has Freddie freely having sex and miming doing cocaine while sarcastically singing about his "pure motives"
  • Duet Bonding: The entire purpose of "Mountain Duet" was to establish the relationship between Florence and Anatoly.
    • "I Know Him So Well" can be this for Florence and Svetlana.
  • Dysfunction Junction: World chess championships apparently attract emotionally crippled Jerkass manchildren, women with abandonment issues, and self-absorbed adulterers. As Svetlana characterizes them: "Esoterics, paranoids, hysterics."
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The Chicago version, which does end with Florence's father being rescued from the gulags and reunited with his daughter.
  • Europop: The Concept Album definitely falls into this trope, although it's been progressively toned down over the years. There's only so much you can do with a thirty piece orchestra.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Arbiter. It makes sense that he doesn't have a name since he doesn't really care about everyone else's problems unless they're interrupting the game, making him pretty one-dimensional.
    • In the Broadway version he was explicitly named Constantine Stannos, and was a Greek businessman. In Sweden, he was a Frenchman named Jean Jacques Van Boren. The US Tour made him a Nigerian named Kobe Obe. But again — none of these names has actually stuck. Also see No Name Given below.
    • In the concept album, the players aren't named — they are referred to as "The American" and "The Russian" respectively.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Molokov
    • Walter's part is also pretty low.
      • Depending on the production, the 2008 concert took Walter's vocal range down an octave to match Clarke Peters. The 2001 Danish touring cast and the original Broadway production had Walter's part as a tenor, possibly to contrast Molokov.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Subverted. Sure, there's chess in it, but it's the least of everyone's worries.
    • The Concept Album cover art makes the subversion clear: the chessboard is disintegrating.
  • Excuse Plot: A rare theatrical version. Some productions have an exchange of spies being negotiated at the championships as the reason for the CIA's and KGB's interest in who wins. It's treated as a flimsy excuse even in-story, with the implication that both sides are perfectly happy continuing the cold war, even if it causes misery to all around them.
  • Fading into the Next Song: Done a lot on the Concept Album, but not so much on stage since they usually have one or two lines of dialogue to cram in before the next cue.
  • Fate Worse than Death: In many productions, "Talking Chess" is a duet between Freddie and Anatoly. Due to the Soviet Machine, Anatoly faces a genuine threat to his life if he loses the match. But as Freddie advises him, his life means nothing in the grand scheme if Anatoly makes a mockery of both their lives' passion, the ancient tradition of Chess itself.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Molokov, especially in the 2001 recording. Walter is this too, though not as egregiously.
  • Final Love Duet: Subverted with "You and I (Reprise)".
  • Freudian Excuse: Most characters get a song or two that is just this; which characters get which songs depend mostly on the director of the iteration in question.
  • Glorious Mother Russia: Played with. Some of the Soviet characters are diehard loyalists of the regime, some are dissatisfied or even political dissidents, and some are only out for themselves. The trope is milked for all it's worth in "The Soviet Machine", however.
    KGB Agents: We can feel the flame of triumph burning! Our people's pride returning! The Soviet machine advances!
  • Gratuitous French: The Arbiter in the Swedish version. His introductory solo is peppered with French lines.
  • Greed: Walter in the US Tour rewrite (the one by Richard Coe). He ruins Anatoly's life and gets him sent back to the Soviet Union not to rescue an American spy, but so that the Soviets will let him do some chess merchandising in Russia.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: An adulterer and his mistress versus two pragmatic spooks doing what they sincerely believe is in their countries' best interest.
  • Heroic BSoD: Florence usually hits several of these, signified by her leitmotif, "Nobody's Side."
  • Hotter and Sexier: The 2010 UK Tour had a lot of sexual undertones, with "You and I" involving a basque and stocking-wearing Florence caressing the half-dressed Anatoly before stripping off his vest.
  • "I Am" Song: "The Arbiter"
    Oh, I'm the Arbiter, I know the score.
    From square one I'll be watching all sixty-four.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder:
    Anatoly: I'm a chess player, Mr. Molokov. You go and play these other... "games".
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Florence and Svetlana both say this about Anatoly in "I Know Him So Well." Later subverted when Anatoly has a song in which he says that he alone, and not either of the women that in the past he said he loved, is his one true obligation. Essentially "Screw my beloved, I want to be happy."
  • Ironic Echo: In the end of "Florence Quits", The American sings "I'm not the kind to be vindictive, holding some childish grudge...". "Pity The Child" explicitly reveals that The American does, in fact, hold quite a grudge against his father who left him and his mother, and his mother, whom he never really had any real relationship with, stating that to her, he was "only her son".
  • Irrelevant Act Opener: "The Story of Chess" has nothing to do with the actual plot of the show. "Merano" and "One Night in Bangkok" have very little to do, either, only describing the locations. At least "Merano" segues into "What a Scene! What a Joy!" which introduces Freddie.
  • "I Want" Song: "Where I Want to Be" is a subversion, as it's Anatoly's reflection on getting what he always wanted and how hard it sucks.
  • Jerkass: Freddie Trumper, though given the source material this is unsurprising. (If anything he's less of one than the guy he's based on.)
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Freddie is correct in his assertions that his reputation as the bad boy of chess has helped to renew public interest in the game. He later helps Anatoly realize that winning the championship is his only chance to redeem himself.
  • Kent Brockman News: Walter is ostensibly the reporter covering the match, but that takes a back seat to his trying to influence it and mess with the players through his coverage (and other actions). This extends to him arranging for a video of Anatoly's (abandoned) family to play during an interview with Anatoly, who reacts as expected.
  • Large Ham: The roles of Freddie and Molokov call for it.
    • The Arbiter during "Opening Ceremony", particularly the last part. During the first part, he's kinda hammy. In the last part, he doesn't hold back at all.
  • Leitmotif: There are several in the show.
    • Variations of the instrumental "Chess Game" appear whenever there is a chess game.
    • Elements of "The Story of Chess" recur in "Quartet (A Model of Decorum and Tranquility)" and "The Deal (No Deal)", both examples of the politics happening around the chess board.
    • Elements of "What a Scene! What a Joy!" recur whenever Freddie comes into a scene – particularly the electric guitar riff, which is later adapted as a vocal melody. It appears in "Mountain Duet" (when Freddie walks in on Florence and Anatoly), "Florence Quits", and very notably "The Deal (No Deal)". On a more general level, the electric guitar itself is a kind of leitmotif for Freddie.
    • The melody and some lyrics from "Difficult and Dangerous Times" recur in "The Soviet Machine", both songs being about crushing the opposition on the chess board.
    • The melody from "Press Conference", where a group of reporters confronts Freddie, recurs when Freddie, now working for Global Television, does the same to Anatoly in "The Interview".
    • In the 1990 Sydney production, the melody of "One Night in Bangkok" reappears at various points throughout the musical.
    • Florence has a leitmotif in "Nobody's Side," a song about her Heroic BSoD. As her leitmotif, elements of the song show up frequently.
    • The melody of "Pity the Child" appears when Freddie indulges in some self-pity after losing Florence, when Florence refuses to fall for Molokov's bait, and for Freddie's huge Heroic BSoD.
  • Location Song: "Merano" is all about the healthful wonders of Merano, Italy, where Act I is set. "One Night in Bangkok", set in Bangkok, Thailand, is the opening of Act II, with Freddie disdainfully describing the city as a Wretched Hive that holds no interest whatsoever for him.
  • Lonely at the Top: Freddie and Anatoly express this sentiment in different ways.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Molokov.
    • Walter, Freddie's agent, is often heavily implied to be a CIA agent.
  • Meaningful Name: Freddie Trumper, a braggadocious blowhard who keeps asking for more money from his sponsors.
  • Mind Screw: It's not clear how much of "Endgame" takes place inside Anatoly's head.
  • Minimalist Cast: Some productions with a limited number of cast members re-use actors within the show. For example, Svetlana's actress (the character only appears in the second act) can sometimes play one of the Ensemble in the first act. The reverse is true for the Arbiter, who might appear as an Ensemble member in the second act.
  • Money Song: "The Merchandisers".
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Anatoly, in an unusual way: while he leaves the Soviet Union, his love for his homeland is stronger than the political divisions forcing him to leave, so in a way, his heart will always remain there.
    • Averted by Freddie/The American in productions with "No Contest" — he expressly dismisses patriotism as a motivator, and only cares about winning.
  • No Accounting for Taste: Florence and Freddie.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Freddie is pretty clearly an unflattering take on Bobby Fischer. Which, if you know Bobby Fischer's history, is not very hard to understand.
  • No Name Given: Anatoly and Freddie are simply "The Russian" and "The American" in the original Concept Album. Also, The Arbiter only has a name in a few versions (Jean Jacques van Boren, Constantine Stannos, Kobe Obe), though nobody calls him that anyway.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Josh Groban, singing the part of Anatoly in the 2008 concert. His performance is arguably better for it. Same with Kerry Ellis as Svetlana, averted by Molokov.
    • Also, Tommy Körberg in the original album, the original London cast, and Chess på Svenska, which is understandable because, well, "på Svenska."
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: "Embassy Lament" is sung by a group of bureaucrats processing the paperwork necessary for Anatoly to defect, who themselves are fed up with the complicated system for processing defectors, which they are constantly doing.
  • Only Friend: Florence is Freddie's (or at least says she is — given his behavior, it's not hard to believe), although by the end of the first act even she gets fed up and leaves him.
  • Opening Ballet: "The Golden Bangkok"
  • The Power of Cheese: "Merano" skirts this territory on several occasions, particularly the line "I'd have to be carried away to call a halt".
  • Precision F-Strike: In the Concert version of "Talking Chess". Missing from the soundtrack.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Anatoly considers his entire chess career thus far to have been one big one. He suffers another one at the end, winning the chess championship so as to prove to himself that he's free from Molokov's manipulations - but then returning to the Soviet Union anyway because he lost everything he had in the process.
    Now I'm
    Where I want to be and who I want to be
    And doing what I always said I would and yet
    I feel I haven't won at all!
  • Pretty in Mink: On occasion, but they're fake since this is an unnecessary expense even in a professional production where a faux would do.
  • Rage Quit: Freddie does this in the first game we see him play.
  • Revised Ending: The many variations of the show's plot have also produced a variety of endings. Here's a fairly comprehensive list of endings appearing in productions:
    • Anatoly plays Viigand in the final match. Anatoly wins. Florence does not get reunited with her father. (First used in the original 1986 London production, now canon once again as of the 2008 Royal Albert Hall concert according to Tim Rice.)
    • Anatoly plays Freddie in the final match. Anatoly loses. Florence does not get reunited with her father. (First used in the 1988 Broadway production. Common in American productions.)
    • Anatoly plays Freddie in the final match. Anatoly loses. Florence actually gets reunited with her father. (First used in the 1990 Chicago production. It appears here and there in American productions.)
    • Anatoly plays Freddie in the final match. Anatoly wins. Florence does not get reunited with her father. (First used in the 1991 Sydney production. It doesn't seem to be used anymore.)
    • Anatoly plays Viigand in the final match. Anatoly wins. Florence actually gets reunited with her father. (Seen in a 2011 German production and the 2018 Kennedy Center production.)
  • Sanity Slippage Song: A variation in the Concept Album, when at the end of "The Deal", everyone else comments on Freddie's descent into his own crapulence:
    Let him spill out his hate till he knows he's deserted.
    There's no point wasting time preaching to the perverted.
  • Scenery Porn: The first London production with the bank of TV screens. Since then staging, even in professional productions, has been pretty basic.
  • Self-Plagiarism: Some of the music borrows from previous compositions written by Andersson and Ulvaeus for ABBA. In particular, the chorus of "I Know Him So Well" was based on the chorus of "I Am An A" and the chorus of "Anthem" used the chord structures from the guitar solo from "Our Last Summer".
  • Serious Business: What the Arbiter describes as "a simple board game" ends up being very serious business for all the parties involved. In "Difficult and Dangerous Times" the US and the USSR both make it very clear early on that it's much more than a game to them.
    Chorus: We don't want the whole world saying "They can't even win a game."
  • Shame If Something Happened: Molokov uses this while listing the abuse that he and the KGB intend to put Anatoly through in "The Soviet Machine."
    Even worse, imagine if his ladies met
    Well, then, I'll bet
    The atmosphere round here would grow a little strained as he explained...
  • Shout-Out:
    • Tim Rice named Florence after his gran.
    • "One Night in Bangkok" describes "a show with everything but Yul Brynner", referencing his role as the King of Siam in the 1956 film adaptation of The King and I.
    • "Tea girls, warm and sweet/Some're set up in the Somerset Maugham suite"
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Puts the "sliding" in the sliding scale. It starts out a touch on the idealistic side, then takes a hard right into cynicismville. "Nobody's Side" is a bit cynical, but Anatoly's decision that he is his one true obligation takes the cake.
  • Smart People Play Chess: The whole story is about some of the smartest and most gifted chess players competing in a tournament.
  • Smug Straight Edge: The Arbiter can come across this way, with his insistence that he (and, by implication, he alone) cannot be bribed by anything from women to drugs, or in any other way swayed from his loyalty to the rules of chess.
  • The Stoic: Viigand, whose most notable scene is calmly practicing chess as the entire Soviet delegation breaks into raucous song and dance around him. Molokov even calls him a "chess-playing machine."
  • That Russian Squat Dance: In some productions, "The Soviet Machine" features this in the choreography.
  • Unwanted Spouse: Poor Svetlana.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Most of the cast. Anatoly is very much aware of his status, and Florence usually is, too. Only Walter and Molokov are arguably aversions.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Sort of. The story has some elements that mirror real life, such as Freddie (in reality Bobby Fischer) being an ass who concedes after losing five games against Anatoly (Anatoly Karpov). Even the 5:1 to 5:5 comeback between Anatoly (now mirroring Viktor Korchnoi, particularly in his defection) and Viigand (Anatoly Karpov) is pretty close to what actually happened, only reversed in who was doing the coming back. The retcon takes two forms, the first being of course the love triangle. The second is the switching around of who exactly Anatoly is representing at any given moment. He starts out as Karpov when he beats Bobby Fischer, becomes Korchnoi when he defects, then goes back to being Karpov by winning after his opponent had made a comeback.
  • Villain Song: "The Soviet Machine," where Molokov relates to his compatriots exactly how dirty they will be playing in order to ensure Anatoly loses.
    • In the Broadway version, there was also "Let's Work Together", which features Walter and Molokov deciding to team up to take down Anatoly, and "No Contest," where Walter prevails on Freddie to crush his opponent.
  • Worthy Opponent: Whilst initially dismissing him, by the time of "Talking Chess", Freddie sees Anatoly as this and urges him to give up his politics and win the game.

Alternative Title(s): Chess