Mamma Mia! ABBA Mania returns to Aspen
Special to The Aspen Times
IF YOU GO …
What: ABBA Mania
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Wednesday, Dec. 25, 6:30 p.m.
How much: $60
Tickets: Wheeler box office; aspenshowtix.com
If seeing an ABBA tribute band on Christmas isn’t on your list of holiday-season entertainment options, maybe it should be. You’ll have had your fill of “Jingle Bells” and the like by Christmas, and what better excuse is there to break out some flashy bell-bottoms and a sequined headband, put the holiday madness behind and dance into the final week of the decade with a show that’s just pure fun?
ABBA Mania, an ABBA tribute show that’s been touring for 20 years, last performed at the Wheeler Opera House in March. With multiple costume changes, a dazzling light show, hip choreographed dancing and an infectious energy level, the foursome playing the ’70s super-pop group and their band kept the audience on their feet and singing along throughout their exhaustive catalog of chart hits.
Which, by the way, were all released within a few years. Agnetha, Anni-Frid (Frida), Benny and Bjorn (ABBA is an acronym of their first names) became a band — and two couples — in the early 1970s. The Swedish group broke out big in 1974 when they won the Eurovision Song Contest with “Waterloo” and were arguably the most popular band in the world when their string of hits climbed various countries’ charts through the end of the decade.
ABBA never reunited after declaring a temporary break in 1982 — but their music was soon revived and still lives on with numerous covers, compilation albums and, perhaps most influential for younger generations, the 2008 film “Mamma Mia!” (an adaptation of the 1999 Broadway musical of the same name).
What’s the lasting appeal of the music of a band that hasn’t recorded or performed in 38 years?
Beyond their striking look and outrageous costumes, ABBA was “one of the greatest bands in history,” said Kirbi Long, who plays Agnetha in ABBA Mania. A freelance singer and dancer, Long wasn’t always a big ABBA fan, but has grown to appreciate their work in the five-and-a-half years she’s been with the tribute project.
“Lyrically they’re a lot of fun, and the melodies they do are insane — to hear them singing together is beautiful,” said Long, who played Frida for four years before switching roles. “Their music surpassed everything. Bjorn and Benny wrote all the songs, and the women had such star power.”
ABBA obsession is even more keenly felt outside of the U.S., said Long, whose troupe has toured the Caribbean and Central America. A separate cast based in England tours Europe, where perhaps ABBA mania is the strongest. The band’s international appeal can be explained by the universality of their music, Long said.
“Fernando” (a No. 1 hit in 13 countries) doesn’t sound like a Swedish song, she noted, and other songs touch on arrangements or rhythms that are familiar to other cultures — yet most of them have a universal sing-along appeal that everyone can get into.
“They made popular a variety of music that touches different languages and cultures in a way that other bands haven’t been able to do,” Long said.
Another Latin-flavored tune, “Chiquitita,” is Long’s favorite, not just for the beautiful harmony but especially for the lyrics, which are about two women coming together in grief and one comforting the other.
“Honestly what makes the music great, ABBA has a way of making all their music happy, but when you really listen there’s a driving force beneath it: the hope it brings to people,” Long said.
But while ABBA Mania faithfully reproduces the words and songs of its namesake, Long and Amy Edwards (Frida) inject their own choreography and plenty of audience interaction in the performance — imbuing it with more of a concert feel than a musical theater experience.
“We’re just trying to encompass their spirit while paying tribute to them,” said Long, who never did a tribute show before ABBA Mania. “And I love that because I can encompass the character and also put a little bit of my spirit into it.”
All of this comes together for a show whose appeal spans generations. Decades after discovering ABBA as a child, listening to the albums my mother used in her aerobics classes, I took my 8-year-old daughter to ABBA Mania’s unforgettable show at the Wheeler last winter. Along with two good friends and their young daughters, we started our own mother-daughter tradition, singing and dancing and laughing the night away — “having the time of our lives,” indeed.
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The Virtual Aspen Music Festival’s Sunday concerts have been going from strength to strength in a year without audiences in the seats.