CHESS on Broadway

Imperial Theatre, New York

Music: Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus. Lyrics: Tim Rice

The Shubert Organization, 3 Knights Ltd, Robert Fox, Ltd present: CHESS Based
on an idea by Tim Rice. Book by Richard Nelson

Opened: 28, April 1988 (after 17 previews) – Closed: 25, June 1988

The Cast:
  • Judy Kuhn – Florence Vassy
  • David Carroll – Anatoly Sergievsky
  • Philip Casnoff – Freddie Trumper
  • Harry Goz – Molokov
  • Dennis Parlato – Walter
  • Marcia Mitzman – Svetlana Sergievsky
  • Paul Harman – The Arbiter
The Company:
    John Aller, Neal Ben-Ari, Suzanne Briar, Steve Clemente, Katherine Lynne Condit, Ann Crumb, David Cryer, R.F. Daley, Gina Gallagher, Deborah Geneviere, Kurt Johns, Eric Johnson, Paul Laureano, Rosemary Loar, Judy McLane, Jessica Molaskey, Richard Muenz, Kip Niven, Francis Ruivivar, Alex Santoriello, Wysandria Woolsey, Karen Babcock, Craig Wells.
The Creative Team:
  • Director – Trevor Nunn
  • Scenic Design – Robin Wagner
  • Costume Design – Theoni V. Aldredge
  • Lighting Design – David Hersey
  • Sound Design – Andrew Bruce
  • Musical Director and Supervisor – Paul Bogaev
  • Orchestrations and Arrangements by Anders Eljas
  • Executive Producers Gatchell & Newfeld Ltd.
  • Production Stage Manager Alan Hall Casting by Johnson-Liff & Zerman
  • Hair and Make-Up Design by Schubert & Di Niro
  • Dance Staging by Lynne Taylor-Corbett

Plot synopsis

The American version has different settings and a completely different Act 2. In particular, the entire show is about one chess tournament, not two. Act 1 handles the first part of the tournament, which is held in Bangkok, while Act 2 handles the conclusion, and is set in Budapest.

Act 1

The world chess championship is being held in Bangkok. At a press conference, the brash American challenger, Freddie Trumper, relishes the crowd's affection, while the current Russian champion, Anatoly Sergievsky, and Molokov, his second, watch with curiosity and disdain. During the match Freddie accuses Anatoly of receiving outside help via the flavor of yogurt he is eating, and Freddie storms
out, leaving his second, Florence, in an argument with the Arbiter and the Russians. She later scolds him, but he insists that she, a child emigre who escaped Hungary during the 1956 uprisings, should support him.

A meeting to smooth things over goes badly and ends with the Russian and Florence together, where they quickly develop feelings for one another. Freddie was supposed to attend, but got sidetracked by the nightlife, and arrived late to see Anatoly and Florence holding hands. When he later accuses her of conspiring against him, she reflects that "nobody's on nobody's side", and
decides to leave him. As the matches continue, Freddie flounders, finishing Act 1 with 1 win and 5 losses; one more loss will cost him the tournament. Anatoly surprises everyone by defecting at the end of Act 1. Answering reporters' questions about his loyalties, his "Anthem" declares that "my land's only borders lie around my heart."

Act 2

Eight weeks later, everyone is in Budapest to witness the conclusion of the tournament. Florence is elated to be back in her hometown of Budapest, but dismayed that she remembers none of it, not even what happened to her Father, since he had to leave her in 1956. Molokov offers to help and starts 'investigating' Florence's father's fate. The plot quickly spins into political
intrigue involving the Russians’ attempts to get Anatoly back; even Svetlana, Anatoly's estranged wife, has been flown into Budapest to pressure him indirectly. These threats strain Anatoly's relationship with Florence, and she shares her woes with Svetlana. The stress impedes Anatoly's ability to play chess, so that Freddie starts winning games until they are tied 5-5. Molokov
brings Florence to see a man claiming to be her father, and implies that harm will come to the man if Florence remains with Anatoly.

During the final game Anatoly realizes that despite all the harm he has brought with his defection, he cannot hurt his true love, Florence, by depriving her of her father. He chooses to recant his defection, and makes a tactical error. Freddie immediately takes advantage of the blunder and proceeds to win the game and the tournament, becoming the new world champion. Anatoly returns to
Moscow a broken man.

Florence is waiting for her father so they can leave for America when she is approached by Walter. He confesses to her that the old man is not her father and her father is most likely dead. It seems that the Soviets struck a deal with Walter, a secret CIA agent, that if they managed to get Anatoly back, they would release a captured American spy. Their initial attempts at getting Anatoly back
by using Svetlana and other family members had failed, and they had finally succeeded by using Florence. As the curtain closes, Florence has left Freddie, been lost by Anatoly, and lost the father she never had, and she realizes that like Anatoly, her “only borders lie around her heart.”