The ABBA-studded show.
(photo credit: PR)
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, pop music started bifurcating into all sorts of subgenres. But just as the fabled era of rock and pop began to fade, a new act sprang onto the pop scene with a bang and plenty of douze points. The band came from well outside the Anglo world and went by the name of ABBA. The moniker is an acronym taken from the first names of the band members: Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad.
The Swedish foursome was founded in 1972 but burst onto the global stage by winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with “Waterloo.” And the rest is history and ongoing success. The group broke up in 1982, after a string of hit numbers and wildly successful global tours. To date, ABBA has sold close to 400 million records worldwide; second, apparently, only to The Beatles.
Even though the source act may no longer be a performing going concern, the gravy train has been merrily rolling down the track for the last 16 years in the shape of the definitively feel-good Mamma Mia! musical which has been packing them in all over the world since the first show took place in London in 1999. Since then, the production has been staged in 400 major cities, in 14 languages and on five continents, selling a phenomenal 54 million tickets in the process.
Mamma Mia’s globe-trotting first brought the show to these shores eight years, and it is now heading back this way for 16 shows at the Performing Arts Center in Tel Aviv, between August 20 and September 5. London-based producer Nick Grace has fond memories of that initial foray over here. “Before we came over in 2007, they were looking forward to it but with some kind of trepidation,” he recalls. “But if you asked anyone what was their favorite place out of all the places we went to around the world, hand on heart they would have said Tel Aviv.” It was the combination of positive vibes and a plentiful supply of liquids that did the trick. “The hospitality and reception they got from the audiences was just amazing, and they were staying at a hotel by the beach, and the bars stayed open until 4 o’clock in the morning,” he explains.
Born in 1957, Grace is no stranger to the music of ABBA, and the couple of dozen numbers in the blockbuster show were a constant part of his teenage sonic backdrop in Britain. Even so, getting involved in Mamma Mia! was something of an epiphany for him. “I wasn’t a fan of ABBA when I was growing up. I remembered the tunes, but I didn’t remember any of the lyrics,” notes Grace. “But when you start working on the show and you discover it again and you listen to the music and you listen to the lyrics, you realize that these two guys [guitarist Ulvaeus and pianist Andersson who wrote all the songs] wrote some amazing songs.”
And the lyrics tell a story that form the backbone of Mamma Mia! – the show title is taken from the group’s smash 1975 hit.
“That’s the secret of Mamma Mia’s success,” says Grace. “It’s not a jukebox musical that stops for a song, and then the story carries on. It was very important for the director [Phyllida Lloyd] that there is a reason for putting a song into the show, and the reason is to move the story along by being part of the story.”
Anyone who has seen the hugely successful 2008 film adaptation of musical, with an all-star cast that included Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth, will know that the storyline is based on the conundrum of a young woman who is about to get married and would very much like her father to attend. The only problem is that her mother has had a checkered love life, and there are three candidates for the paternal position. The movie also helped to keep the musical’s box office takings ticking over nicely and bring in new audiences of all ages.
As the tale unfolds, the eminently singable hits just keep on coming. “Super Trouper,” “Money Money,” “Dancing Queen” and “S.O.S.” are all in there. Naturally, the title song and the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest winner, “Waterloo,” are also in the mega-hit playlist. Grace says that while the music is a fundamental cog in the constantly turning wheel of success, it is the storyline that gives the production its enduring appeal. He adds that it is a multi-layered and consumer-friendly work as well. “As people watch the show, they will learn that it is not just one story. There are many different stories woven into the music, and you can identify with the characters and engage in the story. You enjoy it and get involved in it,” he says.
As any marketing executive will tell you, sex appeal can greatly help to bring the customers in. In the 1970s, many a young man was also drawn to ABBA by the sexy looks of Fältskog and Lyngstad and their often playfully provocative get-ups, with enticingly high hemlines and knee- length boots, to mention but a couple of the eye- and heart-catching sartorial accessories.
That and much more will be in evidence at the Performing Arts Center in Tel Aviv a couple of weeks from now and should send the audiences home with a song or two in their hearts.For tickets and more information: *9066 and www.eventim.co.i