Chess, a storied musical from Tim Rice and ABBA that was a London hit and Broadway flop in 1988, is getting another chance on the boards. In February, the Kennedy Center will present a revised concert version of the show, which centers on the collision of cultures, brains, strategies and romantic entanglements as an American master takes on his Russian counterpart. The February 14-18 run will present a new book by Danny Strong, the actor (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)/screenwriter (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay) and co-creator of TV’s Empire.
“The high school musical theater nerd in me can barely believe I’m writing a new book to one of my favorite musicals,” Strong told Deadline. “Tim Rice, Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus have created one of the great rock scores of all time, and it’s truly a pinch-me moment that I get to work with them on their legendary show. Hopefully this will give inspiration to fanboys everywhere that it is possible to get to play with your heroes!”
Jeffrey Finn, the Kennedy Center’s recently appointed VP Theater Producing and Programming, says Strong has been talking about Chess for some time with Rice (The Lion King), who conceived the show in the 1980s. It was to have been staged by the legendary Michael Bennett (A Chorus Line), who withdrew from the production when he became ill with AIDS, which eventually would kill him. The show was taken over by Trevor Nunn. Several revisions have been staged since then.
Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) will direct. The cast is topped by Raul Esparza (Company) and Ramin Karimloo (Les Miserables) as the rival players, along with Karen Olivo and Ruthie Ann Miles, Bryce Pinkham, Sean Allan Krill and Bradley Dean.
The concert will mark the debut of the Kennedy Center’s Broadway Center Stage concerts, which take their cue from the enormously successful Encores! program at New York’s City Center.