TCA Tour, Jan. 2009: “Great Performances: ‘Chess’ In Concert”

Remember “One Night in Bangkok”? Good ol’ Murray Head. Everyone thinks of him as a one-hit wonder in the States, but he’s really a two-hit wonder, having scored a top-20 single back in ’71 with “Superstar,” from “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Possibly not coincidentally, both singles featured lyrics from Sir Tim Rice, though a lot of Americans don’t realize that “One Night in Bangkok” is from a musical as well…not that anyone would blame you, given that the show from which it originates – “Chess” – was a gargantuan flop when it made its Broadway debut.

Most would argue, however, that the problem lay not with the musical itself but, rather, with the decision to change “Chess” from its original West End set-up by changing the story, adding different settings, characters, and plot elements, re-ordering the score, and redesigning the set to make it all more cinematic.

Certainly, Sir Tim is less than complimentary when discussing the Broadway production.

“To be honest, it was not good,” he said. “A huge book was added in, and I’m not criticizing the writer of the book particularly, but it was already too long, and to stick in a whole new play on top of it…? It went on. You know, it was a long show: thermos, flask, and a razor. It was just…it was not right. And it flopped on Broadway, but there’s a huge interest in the show, because the songs were…you know, if I may be immodest, the songs were very good. And it kind of went out and every director said, ‘Well, I can improve on this.’ And I’m not sure…well, they probably improved on the Broadway version, but they didn’t really get back to what it was.”

Who better to finally succeed at doing so, then, than Sir Tim himself?

PBS will be airing “”Great Performances: ‘Chess’ In Concert,” and although it will probably still never quite be perfect in the eyes of its creators (Rice wrote the lyrics, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson – late of ABBA – wrote the music), it’s certainly a lot closer than it used to be.

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Ten comments about the 2008 Emmy Awards

1. Call him a dick for saying it, but Jeremy Piven’s dismissal of the opening of this year’s ceremony during his acceptance speech was right on the money. After that brief montage of stars quoting classic TV catchphrases, Oprah killed the show stone dead with her opening remarks, and the never-ending sequence by the reality-show hosts was downright painful. It was the worst beginning to an Emmy broadcast that I can remember.

2. I liked “Recount” as much as the next guy, but Tom Hooper was robbed. He totally deserved to win the award for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Dramatic Special for his work on “John Adams.” That said, Jay Roach defused my anger somewhat when he thanked “my rock ‘n’ roll sweetheart, Susanna Hoffs,” in his acceptance speech.

3. Don Rickles can be funnier with one motion of his eyebrow than Kathy Griffin is likely to be in her entire career…and, indeed, he proved this tonight.

4. Bryan Cranston, God love him, only won his Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series because of the split-vote phenomenon.

5. I’m not saying Josh Groban’s TV-themes medley was great, but hearing him screech Cartman’s lines in the “South Park” theme was worth the price of admission.

6. Ricky Gervais’s bit where he demanded that Steve Carrel return his Emmy was brilliant…but with that said, I went to see “Get Smart” at the local discount theater this weekend instead of paying full price to see “Ghost Town.” I’m just saying.

7. As happy as I was to see “Mad Men” win Outstanding Drama Series, I think I was just as psyched that “Damages” got the love it did in the acting categories. I might’ve picked Ted Danson to win over Zeljko Ivanek, I admit, but I’m sure as hell not complaining. Season 2 of that series can’t get here soon enough.

8. It was totally an industry joke, but when Tom Hanks thanked Chris Albrecht during his acceptance speech for “John Adams,” then cupped his ear to see if anyone would applaud, I laughed out loud.

9. Although way too much was made of the whole Outstanding Reality-Show Host award (and giving the Outstanding Reality-Show Competition award to “The Amazing Race” for the sixth consecutive year was abso-fricking-lutely ridiculous), Jimmy Kimmel’s waiting until after the commercial break to announce the winner was truly inspired.

10. Tommy Smothers is my hero.

  

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