Footlite Musicals

Directed by Michael Moyer

Through Aug. 21

Don't let the Young Artists label deter you: Chess' cast of 13- to 18-year-olds at Footlite Musicals do a remarkable job with a musical that has, since its inception in the '80s, had a bad rap. Created by Tim Rice (Aida, among many others, often with Andrew Lloyd Webber) with Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (of ABBA, and the musical Mamma Mia), the story is about competing chess players, one from the U.S. and one from the (former) Soviet Union. The plot acts as a metaphor for the cold war, but can also be taken at face value as a story about two men who love the same woman.

The music has the sound and feel of the '80s (this is where the one-hit-wonder Murray Head got his 15 minutes of fame with "One Night in Bangkok"), as well as a nod to ABBA itself, and Footlite clothed its actors appropriately. Costumer Cindra Venturella recreates all that was fabulously obnoxious about the era.

The large - to the point of occasional over-crowding on stage - cast produces powerful ensemble numbers, and choreography by Alli Miller is well-executed, especially in "One Night in Bangkok" and by Drew Stafford, a Lawrence Central senior, in his "Arbiter's Song."

Soloists in the show had notable performances as well. Jessica Murphy, a junior at Warren Central, playing the love interest Florence Vassy, could have an amazing career waiting for her. Her performance of songs like "Nobody's Side" was jaw-droppingly good.

Brandon Arnold as Anatoly Sergievsky, the Russian, and Emily Rose as Svetana Sergievsky, his wife, also gave impressive performances. At times, it was simple to forget that these were kids up on stage. Often, this Young Artists production was just as good, occasionally better, than theater performed by adults.

Granted, there were weak spots, and some annoying mike issues. But the many things the cast and director Michael Moyer have to be proud of outnumber any glitches.

Chess runs through Aug. 21 at Footlite, 1847 N. Alabama St., 926-6630, Tickets are $15.