Josh Murray as the American chess champion. See more photos below. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Nelson musical explores chess, women’s emancipation, a love triangle and the Cold War

Chess: The Musical run Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Capitol Theatre

Karla Rizzuto auditioned for Chess: The Musical thinking maybe she could sing in the chorus. But she was cast in the lead role.

“I was not expecting it,” she told the Star at a rehearsal on Monday. “But it’s a delight, and here we are,” she said with an expansive gesture toward a stage full of actors and dancers.

Rizzuto sang in the chorus for last year’s production of Mamma Mia!, and that was the first time the Nelson native had been on a stage since she was 16.

“I am a mom. This is my first production in a long time and for me it is challenging to find that energy again, but I am busting out of my mom-shell.”

Busting out is a concept her character, Florence, would understand. She’s a brilliant young chess player in the 1980s who travels as the second to the reigning American chess master of the day.

The plot takes place in the context of the Cold War. The main rivals for the international chess championship in those days were the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and the well-publicized competitions had a Cold War feel to them.

Florence’s struggle in the play is to be recognized for her talents in the strictly male-dominated world of chess, even as she falls in love with the Russian chess master.

“It’s true that the Cold War is the backdrop,” said director Lisel Forst, “but really it is this woman’s emancipation in realizing that she is on nobody’s side, she is enough for herself. Back in the ‘80s that was not a thing that was happening. It was about chess and war and men.”

Chess: The Musical runs tonight and tomorrow at 7:30 and Saturday at 1:30 and 7:30 at the Capitol Theatre.

Forst says Chess is not your typical musical.

“I do appreciate the Phantoms and the Les Miserables, but this is a different kind of a beast.”

The music for Chess was written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of the pop group ABBA, and the story is by Ulvaeus and Tim Rice.

But before staging it they released the music as a concept album.

When they later wrote and staged it as the musical they put very few restrictions on it, Forst said, so there have been many different versions.

Now there’s a Nelson version, consisting of part of earlier versions and some original work by Forst.

“I re-wrote the show,” Forst said. “So this version has never been performed before.”

She worked off the original concept album, kept the music, and changed the narrative and dialogue.

Forst is one of those people who seems to know every musical ever made, and she says Chess has always been her favourite.

“It is the one I sing along to the most, because the music is so unbelievably beautiful and versatile. Growing up I was a big ABBA fan and this has that same catchy epicness about it. I want to introduce it to more people, it’s so wonderful.”

Forst said there are some secret cameos in the piece by people the audiences will recognize.

The show’s musical director is Robyn Lamb with choreography by Mackenzie Hope.

Chess: The Musical is presented by the Amy Ferguson Institute in collaboration with Black Productions and Forstmedia.

Tickets are available at

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From left, Jeff Forst as the Russian chess champion, Karla Rizzuto as Florence, and Josh Murray as the American chess champion.

Actors Josh Murray and Karla Rizzuto. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Kootenay drag troupe The Dancing Legs have a cameo part in Chess. Photos: Bill Metcalfe

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