Set in the early 1980s during the Cold War, 'Chess the Musical' is a politically driven chess tournament between two grandmasters.
With music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA, lyrics by Ulvaeus and Tom Rice, as well as a powerful story of love and conflict combined with political intrigue, 'Chess The Musical' promises to be a theatrical must-see of 2021, coming to Perth this June.
We spoke to Perth’s very own home-grown Alexander Lewis about the musical and his journey from graduating from the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts to performing around the world in opera and theatre.
Let’s start with the big question - can you tell us more about 'Chess The Musical' and what we can expect when coming to watch the show.
It's a big powerful musical with some incredible music that deals with some fairly big themes like power, trust, love and identity. It has some of the most well known and loved music in all of musical theatre.
Can you tell us more about your character and what you are most looking forward to in taking on this role?
I play Anatoly - the Russian chess champion. A strong but flawed man, who is incredibly driven, but who is under immense pressure and scrutiny during the cold war and is haunted by some of the choices he has made. In many ways he fights himself as he struggles with his sense of identity. I am most excited about singing some of his amazing songs.
Anatoly certainly sounds like a complex character. What were the greatest challenges you faced in taking on this role?
Obviously, you have the technicality of performing with a Russian accent. Aside from that, working through the intensity of some of his music is challenging. It's a big show with a lot of singing for the major players so you have to plan and prepare the role really well.
The musical is scheduled to tour in Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. What are you most looking forward to about touring?
Being back on tour and in theatres again is going to be thrilling.
Let’s talk about family. With opera singer parents and a musical theatre brother, what was it like to grow up in such a musical family?
Haha. Well, I don't know any different, so I'd have to say it was pretty great. With Mum and Dad both performing for The Australian Opera at the Opera House, my brother and I really did grow up in the theatre. It was always an exciting place and I'm not surprised that we both ended up performing for a living.
Once you had decided to pursue a career in the arts, what was your journey to becoming a working actor?
It's a pretty long journey that has taken me to some interesting places. I guess it started in school and at ATYP with various plays, then I found Sondheim in a student production of Into the Woods. That inspired me to head to Perth and go to WAAPA, which led to a few great jobs in musicals. I did a stint as a young artist at The Metropolitan Opera in NYC and from there it's been a balancing act between working in Opera and musical theatre.
I imagine that working in the New York theatre scene must be very different to working in the Australian scene. What surprises you the most about the different working environments?
My work in NYC was all operatic in nature and that can be very different from working in musicals. NYC is a high-octane place, and the best of the best ply their trade there. There's a real intensity to the spotlight over there. Having said that, the energy and skill that Aussie performers bring to the stage is world class, and often equal to if not better than their American equivalents. The surprising thing about NYC is how open and positive and receptive they are to Aussie performers.
Returning home to where it all began, how does it feel to be back and performing in Perth?
I love coming back to Perth. It has such a great energy and holds many dear memories for me.
You’re a graduate from Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts here in Perth, do you keep in touch with fellow WAAPA graduates, and do you have any advice for current students of WAAPA?
Haha, well I'm married to one, my brother is one and he's married to one so does that count..? Yes, there are a number of WAAPA grads in our lives. In terms of advice, trust your training, trust the work and know that your journey is unique so try to avoid comparing yourself to other people.
Are there any challenges throughout your career that you have overcome and learnt from and any advice you can pass onto aspiring actors?
I've dealt with some performance anxiety issues which can be quite the process to work through. It's a common issue that, thankfully, more people are open to talking about. Be kind to yourself. Performers are often incredibly sensitive people and incredibly self-critical, a killer combo. I always try to acknowledge at least 3 things that went well in a rehearsal or show or audition, before I start to look for the things that perhaps could've been better. Feeding the negative beast only makes it stronger.
When not performing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
At the moment, all our spare time is given to our little baby boy. Rolling around on the floor giggling is perhaps the best use of anyone's spare time.
Finally, what do you hope audiences take away from this show?
The joy and thrill of seeing a live show again. It's a ripping cast and will be an exhilarating night out.
Don’t miss out on seeing Chess The Musical at Perth Concert Hall this June
Thursday 3 June 2021, 7:30pm
Friday 4 June 2021, 7:30pm
Saturday 5 June 2021, 2:00pm
Saturday 5 June 2021, 7:30pm
Tickets from $49
For more information visit: www.chessmusical.info