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ABBA (article first published : 2004-06-27)

In 1973, a good-looking Swedish group fronted by two married couples - Agnetha Fältskog and Björn Ulvaeus with Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Andersson - came fourth in the Eurovision song contest with a number called Ring Ring. The following year, 1974, the same group scooped first prize and shot to international fame with Waterloo. The group was, of course, ABBA.

An acronym of their first names, ABBA remained in the forefront of contemporary music until 1992, despite both marriages ending in divorce. Their compilation CD, ABBA Gold, released in 1992, has sold 26 million copies to date. ABBA’s music is now being embraced by two generations and both old and young ABBA fans – as well as those new to the group’s music – will enjoy Stuart Mey’s latest show at The Dockyard Theatre on the Point Waterfront.

Musical director Bruce Boome has done an excellent job of recreating the ABBA sound – “the harmonies aren’t as easy as they seem” – remarks Stuart Mey, wryly. Generally, the ABBA sound is genuine although some numbers suffer from over-arrangement. Normally holding a focal point in his productions, Stuart Mey has opted to leave the “youngsters” in the limelight this time, seating himself at the side of the stage in the character of Benny. Now “approaching 60”, Benny reminisces about the band’s history, achievements … and considerable financial success!

The “youngsters” - Karen Wood, John Stengel .Nicky Mey and Paul Cassels - take on the characters of Agnetha, Björn, Frida and Benny. They literally explode into action with the first number Waterloo and keep up the pace through to the end.

Statically seated at his keyboard, Paul Cassels would benefit from engaging a bit more with the audience. Nicky Mey, who has appeared in several of her father’s shows, becomes more relaxed and confident in each new production.

Karen Wood has gained considerable performance stature from her time working in London and it was only towards the end of the show in The Winner Takes it All that we were able to see her true potential. It’s little short of electrifying!

Stealing the show, almost without trying, is John Stengel. With the famous Stengel smile, he looks uncannily like his older brother, Simon – in fact, I thought I’d been catapulted back in time! He impressed with his innate musical ability and engaging stage presence as well as his consistent and compelling performance.

There is an effective backcloth made of scrap aluminium material and the show is somewhat static but this does allow the music to speak for itself. The performers are exuberant and the patrons love it! I would have preferred some of the lighting cues to have been a few seconds earlier in certain places as ocasionally the performers have already started singing before they are placed in the light.

Tickets R65 (dining is not compulsory). For those who wish to sample The Dockyard’s good cuisine, an optional two-course meal is available at a further R55. On offer are suitably titled dishes such as “Swedish” Sirloin, Chickitita Chicken Thermidor, Frida’s Fish Fillet or Canneloni – a-la Agnetha, followed by Crème Brulee, Chocolate Brownies or Kahlua Coffee. My choices of the sirloin and the crème brulee were very satisfactory.

ABBA is scheduled to run throughout July. Bookings through The Dockyard on 031 332 1086 or Computicket. – Caroline Smart




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