Check it, mate! Gallery Players revive ABBA musical ‘Chess’

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One night in Park Slope makes a rough show better!

A musical about the Cold War, written during the 1980s and featuring songs by the Swedish supergroup ABBA, will get a new, improved run at Park Slope’s Gallery Players starting on April 21. The 1988 Broadway version of “Chess,” which follows a championship chess match between an American and a Russian player — who are also romantic rivals — left its fans with multiple questions, said the show’s director, so he has taken elements from the 1986 British version to plug some problems with the plot.

“I’ve tweaked the script and combined the American version and the British version to fill in the holes the story has always had,” said Mark Harborth, who is also the artistic director of the company.

The American version focused more on the love story, while the British one concentrated on espionage, but Harboth said that his two-script mash-up covers all the bases, as well as giving a more central role to Florence, the woman who is the object of affection for both chess masters.

“For me it’s an underdog musical, and I often hear people complain about the script, but now it all makes sense,” said Harborth. “Some words were missing back then but now the music is great and tells a very human story.”

All of the songs in the musical are intact — including the famous tunes “One Night in Bangkok” and “I Know Him So Well,” said Harborth. The music for “Chess” was written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus from ABBA, but the lyrics come from Tim Rice — the lyricist for the Disney films “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King,” among many other project. Rice offered the Park Slope director some help with the project, offering several different scripts and pointing out changes.

“Tim Rice offered us his alternatives, with the things he changed and added, and we took advantage of those,” said Harborth.

The 30-year-old play satirizes the government’s response to the Cold War, and Harborth said that its message is still relevant today.

“It’s 1988 in the Cold War, but the underlying theme of the show is mistrust of the government,” said Harborth. “The fact that the government can do anything to anyone is relevant to today, and I’d say the Patriot Act is a good example of that — the government is getting what they need out of it.”

Harborth says musical will appeal to a wide variety of audiences.

“It’s an emotional devastating play and it’s an intellectual musical,” he said. “It’s a fun show, there’s no language or adult situations, and kids will enjoy it.”

“Chess” at Gallery Players [199 14th St. between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Park Slope, (212) 352–3101,]. April 21–May 13, Thu–Sat at 8 pm; Sun at 3 pm. $30 ($20 seniors and kids).

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at
Updated 5:46 pm, July 9, 2018
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