Never underestimate a Swedish poncho.
In case there weren’t enough incarnations of the ABBA brand, from stereo to stage to screen, a fleet of tribute robots can also cash in on the foolproof disco catalog with your local philharmonic orchestra. Who’s up for another round of Waterloo? Anyone?
It’s OK. You needn’t be shamed for your ABBA love. It’s quite all right. The Swedish foursome – two feathered ladies, two bearish songwriters, and between them, two ex-couples – figured out how to make a pop song work anywhere you are, and never leave your side. It always works. Cursed be they, says the tortured songbirds out there! They’ve cracked the code!
Give it up. A concert of the geniuses’ music, as performed by touring tribute band abbacadabra, supplemented by our own BPO, showed how versatile these tightly conceived, perfectly produced songs can be. “Waterloo” is beautiful with the viola. “Chiquitita” never sounded so Beatlesesque. And whoever thought to invite the horn section to the party: smart move.
Pairing the orchestra with an already-equipped tribute band has its payoffs. For one, an earnest performance of the more beautiful tunes – they do exist: “Thank You for the Music” – is automatically less schmaltzy when you’ve got a bearded bandleader calling the shots in a sequined top. Purple Lycra leggings wouldn’t have suited orchestra conductor Matthew Kraemer (however saucy his second-act entrance strut), and as purple Lyrca leggings are a requisite here, as are the regrettable boas and those hideous – I mean stunning – ponchos, well it just feels right to let the guests do the heavy lifting.
Abbacadabra’s shtick is heavy, but they parade it with pride. Susan Campbell and Lesley Green play Agnetha and Frida, respectively, with flair, panache and well-suited pipes. Fitting the band’s bit, their performances are in character, complete with reticent accents and schlocky scene work. Each lady takes her turn ripping their ex-husband apart, cracking jokes at their unhappy unions and much happier divorces.
That their acting skills do not take top billing here does not impede their decision to do some scene work. Sell us on whatever dream you want, just don’t forget “Super Trouper,” OK?
Frederick Sampson, as Bjorn, and Gary Raffanelli, as Benny, are equally charming behind their instruments. Sampson does a fine Davey Jones-like head dance, while Raffanelli has Liberace’s piano waves choreographed to a T. It’s too much most of the time, but again, it fits the act; it is the act. ABBA without the glitter is Elton John without the costumes. Which is not to minimize the bombastic, poptastic perfection of their music, disagreeable with only, maybe, monks and caged animals, but it’s almost part of the harmony to be dressed like a floral felt houseplant.
Beyond the show business of it all, it’s still a tight sound. Kleinhans, swanky in its own right, is a funny stage for these lights, but it works. Gives some credibility to these melodies, which could be heard hummed in every bathroom stall on the second and basement floors. Husbands, either dragged by their clap-happy wives, or reticently excited in their own small, hidden ways, were ready to sing along two songs in.
There’s serious nostalgia for this catalog, some 40 years later. This brand’s core audience is looking unseemingly older with every revival. Who knows what arrangement the next tribute will take. Dubstep “Dancing Queen”? Acoustic-folk “Money, Money, Money”? Doesn’t much matter. It’ll still sound great.