First emerging as a concept album in 1984, before premiering in London four years later, Chess the Musicalhas had a very chequered history. With music by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and book and lyrics by Tim Rice, it has never lived up to its impressive credentials. This semi-staged concert production directed by Tyran Parke does nothing to improve its reputation. It’s still absurd and even more dated, and the cast is about name recognition more than great singers who can sell an extremely song-heavy musical.

Alex Lewis and Natalie Bassingthwaighte in Chess the Musical for StoreyBoard Entertainment. Photograph © Jeff Busby

Although this production has trimmed down earlier bloated versions of Chessto about 150 minutes, the plot is increasingly turgid. An allegory of the 1980s Cold War, it begins with a much-hyped chess tournament in Merano, Italy between American world champion Freddy and Russian Anatoly. By their sides are Florence, a Hungarian-born Englishwoman who is Freddy’s manager and love interest; Walter, an American who turns out to be a CIA agent; and Anatoly’s handler Ivan, an obvious KGB...