Bold Move

Appears in the February 2024 issue.

BrightSide Theatre stages Chess, cabaret-style

Chess pieces

A Cold War chess tournament doesn’t seem like riveting theatrical material, but fans of the 1980s musical Chess know otherwise. With music by ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson and book by Tim Rice, the show began in as a concept album and eventually evolved into full London and Broadway productions. Naperville’s BrightSide Theatre will be staging Chess in Concert running February 9 to 18 at the Madden Theatre (171 Chicago Ave., Naperville).

Chess is a fascinating piece of musical theater that has been reshaped over the years, reworking either songs, characters, and/or the plot,” says BrightSide artistic director Jeffrey Cass, who is helming this production. “At its heart is a struggle of a love triangle set on the backdrop of the World Chess Championship that puts the USA vs. the USSR. The music and the setting of the game in the world of the 1980s makes this so unique and my favorite aspect to explore.”

As a 1984 concept album, the pop score was a decisive hit around the world. “There are just a few musicals that get their start like this working as a piece of pop music and then staged,” Cass says. “The Who’s Tommy, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, Green Day’s American Idiot are a couple of other examples of shows that started out as concept albums getting radio play.”

Michael Metcalf, Julie Ann Kornak, and Justin Miller
Michael Metcalf, Julie Ann Kornak, and Justin Miller star in BrightSide Theatre’s Chess in Concert February 9 to 18 at Madden Theatre (below) in Naperville.

Does “One Night in Bangkok” by Murray Head ring a bell? That was the major hit single from the original album. Other songs include “I Know Him So Well,” “Nobody’s Side,” “Mountain Duet,” and “Heaven Help My Heart.”

BrightSide’s Chess in Concert is part of its aptly named Concert Series, which differs from its usual fully staged shows. “Our Concert Series was created for us to explore and present important works that are not done often for different reasons—such as production costs, scale, etc.,” Cass says. “We want to highlight these works celebrating the score and story. We have a larger-than-usual orchestra with the actors in front of them at music stands. They use their script and music in a binder and fully act out the show without sets or costumes and many props. We are focusing on telling the story and featuring the score in a relaxed setting.”

The cast of 20 actors and nine musicians will bring this political love story to life, from Bangkok to Budapest.

Madden Theatre

“The process for staging a concert version of a show is very different,” Cass explains. “I cannot rely on lighting, sets, or costumes to tell the story. It’s the music, the actors, and me making sure that the story shines and is clear for the audience without the other technical design elements. Since actors are on script and there’s less movement of the actors, we only rehearse for two weeks before we are onstage in front of the audience.”

For this concert production, the Madden Theatre will be transformed into a club-like setting.

“There are cabaret tables and chairs spread out in front of the stage and then traditional theater seating behind the tables,” Cass says. “We then add some touches to the tables to really set the mood for the show. All this provides a very intimate setting in a way that you can never experience in a traditional theater.”

Tickets are $37/adults and $32 for seniors and students. Season subscriptions and group discounts are also available. Call 630-447-8497 or visit


Photos: BrightSide Theatre; iStock