Making chess sing: ‘Queen’s Gambit’ to be adapted for the stage

By Michael Paulson

Beth Harmon is making her next move.

A production company led by a Disney heir is planning to adapt “The Queen’s Gambit” into a stage musical. The fictional story is about an orphan girl — that’s Harmon — who becomes a pill-popping prodigy in the overwhelmingly male world of chess.

Level Forward, a company whose founders include Abigail Disney, a grandniece of Walt Disney, said Monday that it had won the rights to adapt Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel, which has become newly noteworthy thanks to the enormous success of last year’s streaming series adaptation on Netflix.

Level Forward is not yet announcing a creative team or any other details of the project.

The company has a decidedly progressive bent (it describes itself as “an ecosystem of storytellers, businesspeople and social change organizers”) and is a relatively recent but active player in the theater industry, co-producing four Broadway shows in 2019: “What the Constitution Means to Me,” “Slave Play,” “Jagged Little Pill” and a revival of “Oklahoma!”

The game of chess, although seemingly unlikely fodder for song-and-dance, has inspired at least one other musical: In the 1980s, lyricist Tim Rice collaborated with Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of Abba to write “Chess,” a fictional account of a tournament between an American and a Soviet grandmaster. The show had a well-received score that remains an object of affection and fascination for some, but despite repeated efforts at revisions, it has not found success onstage; it ran for two months on Broadway in 1988.

“The Queen’s Gambit” project is just at the start of its developmental life, and it’s not yet clear when or where there might be a production.

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