Some ideas are too good to be constrained to merely one medium. Such is the case with Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel The Queen’s Gambit. After starting its life on the page, the story of chess prodigy Beth Harmon moved to television with a seven-episode Netflix adaptation starring the ethereal Anya Taylor-Joy.
Now that Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit is racking up awards (with a presumable Emmy sweep still to come) it’s time for the story to enter into yet another medium. Deadline reported today that entertainment company Level Forward has acquired the theatrical stage rights to the novel. That’s right: The Queen’s Gambit is about to be a play…and a musical no less.
“It is a privilege for Level Forward to lead the charge of bringing The Queen’s Gambit to the stage through the beloved and enduring craft of musical theater,” Level Forward CEO Adrienne Becker and Producer Julia Dunetz said in a statement. “Told through a brave and fresh point of view, audiences are already sharing in the friendship and fortitude of the story’s inspiring women who energize and sustain Beth Harmon’s journey and ultimate triumph. The story is a siren call amidst our contemporary struggles for gender and racial equity, and we’re looking forward to moving the project forward.”
Though no further details of The Queen’s Gambit musical have been announced, that doesn’t mean we can’t get started on speculating what it might include. In fact, let’s not speculate at all – let’s just write the whole darn thing! The story of Beth Harmon is dramatically resonant and offers up many emotional moments where she and the people around her could burst into song.
Using the Netflix miniseries as a guide, here are some songs we want to hear in The Queen’s Gambit musical.
White Moves First
The curtains rise and we see a chessboard with life-size chess pieces, Harry Potter-style. Soon we realize that the chess pieces are the chorus, dressed in black and white, and they begin to sing a highly energetic tune about chess. At first the song seems to be a primer on the rules of the game for the audience, but when delved into deeper, it’s telling the story of Beth Harmon’s life in full. Beth arrives onstage at song’s end and the pieces rush off, leaving her alone on an empty chessboard.
Mr. Shaibel’s Game
The chessboard set has been subtly changed to resemble the orphanage, with the basement of said orphanage off to stage left. After some expository dialogue between two orphanage workers reveals Beth situation, Beth is sent off to the basement where she meets Mr. Shaibel.
The song that follows is a lively, yet restrained two-hander where Beth learns to love chess. In fact, many of the songs in this musical will be duets, replicating the experience of two individuals playing chess. The end of the song, however, will find Beth quickly dispatching the local high school chess club’s entire team as the music intensifies
Little Green Pills
“Little Green Pills” will be the jazziest number yet. The music will be brassy and relentlessly upbeat, belying the song’s grim subject matter as Beth becomes hopelessly addicted to the pills at a young age. The chorus returns for this one and are joined by many orphanage staff and Beth’s friend Jolene.
Apple Pi Club
Beth is adopted by Alma and Allston Wheatley. She attends school for the first time and is introduced to the Mean Girls-esque Apple Pi Club. The song that follows will introduce the titular club and reveal how out of place she feels away from the chessboard
Kentucky State Championship
Thankfully the chessboard and chorus return to the stage here! “Kentucky State Championship” is our first of very many chess bangers. Both Townes and Harry Beltik are introduced here via song. The upbeat energy is interrupted for only a brief reprise of “Little Green Pills” as Beth reloads on the pills before the final match against Beltik, which she wins.
Things slow down for “Orphans.” After Allston leaves the family, Alma and Beth musically bond over being orphans in their own way.
Viva Las Vegas
Though in the series, Beth heads off to Cincinnati for a tournament after the Kentucky State Championship, we’re speeding things up a bit here. “Viva Las Vegas” will naturally take on the bombast of a Las Vegas showtune. This is where we’re introduced to Benny Watts, and more importantly: Benny Watts’ motif. Since the Benny is always “on”, this song will feature a subtle ticking clock throughout all of its runtime.
That ticking clock abruptly stops during “Offbeat Opening.” This is our first introduction to Russian grandmaster Borgov. The song covers Beth’s first matchup against Borgov and is composed almost entirely on piano. It sounds Tchaikovsky-esque, After Borgov’s offbeat opening move, Beth’s internal monologue runs through all the remaining possible moves before she loses. At the end of the song, Beth discovers that Alma has died of hepatitis, exacerbated by drinking.
Little Green Pills (Reprise)
Little Green Pills returns but is a half beat slower as Beth spirals from her loss to Borgov and introduces alcohol into the mix of her addictions.
New Circle Road
“New Circle Road” is the big, show-stopping number at the end of Act I. This song begins slowly by flashing back to the accident on New Circle Road that killed her mom. Beth recaps the moments of her life that led her to this moment and resolves to become a better, stronger person and chess player as the figures from act one and chorus support her.
End of Act I
Shadows on the Ceiling
The first song for Act II introduces one of the more interesting visual elements from the Netflix series: the hallucinatory ceiling chessboard. The act opens open on a chessboard stage again but then light cast on the upper wall of the stage reveals a rooftop chessboard. The chorus provides an update on Beth’s story. Beth then arrives near song’s end to acknowledge the chess pieces on the ceiling.
Love and Chess
This is a duet between Harry Beltik and Beth. Just as in the show, Harry arrives at Beth’s house to provide her with all of his chess knowledge. The song will follow their burgeoning relationship, and the devastation that Harry feels when he discovers that Beth will always love chess more than him.
Benny’s clockwork motif returns in earnest as he and Beth reunite over a series of speed chess games. The tempo of the song continues to accelerate to the very end where Beth finally wins a game of speed chess and the music stops.
After “Speed Chess” we flash forward to the scene that The Queen’s Gambit miniseries opens with – Beth’s rough morning leading to her second match against Borgov. The song has the same piano theme with Beth’s internal monologue signing along. After she loses miserably, she heads back to Kentucky and Jolene delivers the news that Mr. Shaibel has died.
Mr. Shaibel’s Game (Reprise)
While the first “Mr. Shaibel’s Game” song was jaunty. This will be a slower, mournful affair. An adult Beth slowly sings along with the shade of Mr. Shaibel and begins to heal from all her trauma.
The Queen of Moscow
This song opens with voiceover of newspaper headlines and newscasters singing about Beth Harmon’s dominance in the Moscow Invitational. Beth dispatches a series of competitors once again, culminating in a fun song and dance with Luchenko.
The Queen’s Gambit
The beginning of the final match. Beth is assured and confident now and the music reflects it. The Tchaikovsky-esque Borgov motif is accompanied by a full orchestra and both Beth and Borgov are singing.
Mid-song, Borgov calls for an adjournment and everything goes dark for 10 seconds.
The grand finale of the show! Everyone (even the dead characters) returns to cheer Beth on as she closes out Borgov. This full orchestra number incorporates motifs from many other songs and ends with Beth triumphant. Just as in the TV series, the theatrical production will end with Beth heading outside and playing some street chess games in Moscow.