Adding a 4th ABBA-based show to this already overstuffed city seems a brave move, but can the Swedish pop sensations still pull a crowd? Will the call of flesh and blood triumph (if only briefly) over the flatness of projected light?
Let me start at the beginning. I am melded to a lovely Norwegian bloke. ABBA, along with thermal long johns comes with the package. We have seen Mamma Mia at the Novello Theatre, both films (more than once), trekked to Olympic Park for ABBA voyage, and have tickets for Mamma Mia the Party. He (rather than I) could be called a super fan.
Hence our trip to Entertainers’ touring production of Thank You for the Music, The Ultimate Tribute To ABBA. In my experience tribute acts are always a winner, if they are skilled and convincing it’s impressive, and if they’re dreadful it’s hilarious. A very British form of schadenfreude. An overweight Madonna? Freddie Mercury older than he ever got? A white Tina Turner? We have all suffered through these shocking acts in our local boozer, covering our eyes with our hands but unable not to peak through our fingers at the musical mutilation occurring next to the fruit machine.
Last night had whiffs of that, but only the faintest. ABBA, famously known for outlandish and impressive costumes are a hard act to dress with a touring budget. Even so, it was a rather lazy attempt. The 1975 cat dresses are recreated well, but for Money Money Money cheap crumpled trench coats and glittery costumy hats are thrown on over them. The second act gives us sleeved ponchos, but the only other change is the girls taking them off (off stage) and returning in vaguely space-age purple spandex numbers. The boys are easier to achieve and look better throughout apart from one terrible wig (Benny in the bad wig). A slight tendency to unprofessionalism creeps in as the evening builds in energy, as a techie pops out from behind the wings to take photos of the audience. Did they have cell phones in the 1970s I wonder, pedantically?
Nevertheless, you get what it says on the tin, and as tributes go this is a persuasive one. Steve Nelson (also musical director) switches between piano plonking, keyboard guitar, accordion, and flinging his platform boot across the stage, almost braining poor Frida. He drives the comedy and has clearly studied Benny’s stage presence. Kellie Vallance is our dark-haired (and as my boyfriend reminds me every time we see anything ABBA-related, partly Norwegian) beauty Frida. By far the strongest vocalist, belting, twirling, and flirting/bickering with her ex-husband Benny. Emma Parker is the blonde powerhouse, Agnetha. Nailing the range and mannerisms of the star, she astounds in her solos such as Thank You for the Music and The Winner Takes It All. The closest to her character, this makes up for her slight hesitance with the demanding choreography. Dave Miles as Bjorn, a gifted guitar player bumbling along with the classic dad jokes and improvisation that all the cast fling themselves into. Are they the best Swedish accents? No, but they are certainly not the worst.
21 songs, every classic, Waterloo, Honey Honey, I do I do, Chiquitita, Super Trouper, and finally (and jubilantly) Dancing Queen. Torches are lit up on phones for Fernando, and tears are shed by pensioners. Aunt Susan almost pops her hip out in a rather ill-advised line dancing lesson, and we bellow ourselves horse on the AHA’s of Voulez-Vous. It’s good old-fashioned regional fun that this overly highbrow capital could do with more of, sold to you with much more skill than a tribute act normally commands. Will I go along to 80s live? Or Radio Gaga? You know I might, but next time I will drink more heavily. One more G&T, blur that vision a smidge, then Frida, Agnetha, Benny, and Bjorn are there before us, living, breathing, and singing their flares off if admittedly looking a little different.
Grab your ticket and catch your favorite stars (almost) in the flesh, click here!