By rook or by crook

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On one side, you have “Chess,” a cult-fave-rave with mu­sic from ABBA’s Benny An­der­s­son and Bjorn Ul­vaeus and lyrics from Tim Rice be­ing staged by Slow Burn Theatre, a talent mag­net of a com­pany based in Boca Ra­ton.

On the other side, you have a mu­si­cal that is so stout and dense no light can en­ter it. Sublime fa­tal­ism un­der­scores a story in which a chess tour­na­ment sub­sti­tutes for the bat­tle­ground dur­ing the Cold War. But the book never quite co­a­lesces, re­cent head­lines com­ing out of

Chess the Mu­si­cal

When: Through April 5; 8 p.m. Fridays and Satur­days, with 2 p.m. mati­nees Sun­days in Boca Ra­ton; April 10-13, 8 p.m. Thurs­days through Satur­days, with a 2 p.m. mati­nee April 13 in Aven­tura Where: West Boca Per­form­ing Arts The­ater, 12811 W. Glades Road, Boca Ra­ton; Aven­tura Arts and Cul­tural Cen­ter, 3385 NE 188th St. Cost: $40 ($35 for se­niors; $25 for stu­dents) in Boca Ra­ton; $34.50-$39.50 in Aven­tura Con­tact: 866-811-4111 or Slow­BurnThe­atre.org; 877-311-7469 or Aven­tu­ra­Cen­ter.org Crimea notwith­stand­ing.

“Chess” is play­ing through April 5 at West Boca Per­form­ing Arts The­ater be­fore mov­ing to the Aven­tura Arts and Cul­tural Cen­ter on April 10 for a four-day run from April 10.

Un­like most mu­si­cals, “Chess” isn’t sup­posed to feel ef­fort­less. This is much closer to a pop-rock opera with lit­tle spo­ken di­a­logue. You would be wise to read the syn­op­sis in­side the pro­gram be­fore the lights dim.

On one level, the bat­tle is be­tween Amer­i­can chess grand­mas­ter Fred­die (Rick Pena) and his Soviet coun­ter­part, Ana­toly (Matthew Korinko). On an­other level, it is a love tri­an­gle be­tween the two men and Florence (Amy Miller Bren­nan).

Wal­ter (Sean Do­razio) is with the TV net­work cov­er­ing the match, and pulling for an Amer­i­can cham­pion to boost rat­ings and sat­isfy ad­ver­tis­ers. Ana­toly’s sec­ond, Molokov (Elvin Ne- gron), ruth­lessly schemes to se­cure a win for his Soviet side, at any cost.

That is the threat hang­ing over ev­ery­thing, that chess — and, in­deed, “Chess” — is about war via proxy, whether it is be­tween men or na­tions. Ev­ery­one else is a pawn, in­clud­ing Ana­toly’s es­tranged Rus­sian wife, Svet­lana (Carla Bor­don­ada), whois moved into place in a dirty but strate­gic move.

It’s all a stale­mate. So whether to see “Chess” is your move. But know that the chore­og­ra­phy is too am­bi­tious, and the set de­sign has too many com­pet­ing ideas com­pet­ing. Com­bine the two, and the re­sult is a ser­ried mass.

The cos­tum­ing is full of verve, with neo-punk and post-in­dus­trial ref­er­ences. This means black cloth­ing, of­ten glossy, with lots of hard­ware. Some of the fits and pro­por­tions are off, but we can over­look that.

On the plus side, the vo­cals are pow­er­ful where needed and beau­ti­fully lyri­cal where war­ranted. The cast has a knack, a real gift, for in­ject­ing act­ing into the songs. Like I said, Slow Burn Theatre is a real talent mag­net. While the per­form- ers sup­ply a deft hand, the show of­fers an iron fist.

Yet with all that op­er­atic pas­sion fly­ing around on­stage, it all flit­ters away be­fore the au­di­ence can get a hold of it, even af­ter a lit­tle more than two hours with a 15-minute in­ter­mis­sion.

GEMMA BRAMHAM/COUR­TESY

Rick Pena as Fred­die and the cast of Slow Burn Theatre’s “Chess the Mu­si­cal.”

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