Since the members of ABBA reunited to create a pair of new songs in 2018, rumors have circulated about a tour or hologram show. But if fans want to catch ABBA songs live, aficionados must be content, at least for now, with the array of tribute bands.
The Gazette is presenting the top touring troupe, ABBA MANIA, at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids on Saturday night (1/25).
ABBA MANIA was created in 1999, and has been on the road for 20 years, after performing on London’s West End for 18 weeks in 2000.
“We put the show on in the West End, which is the UK’s Broadway,” ABBA tour manager Todd Littlewood said by phone from his Oxford, England, office. “This was accomplished many years before there were tribute shows playing out on a big scale. We added an amazing production and took the tribute show to another level, and the response has been tremendous.”
More than 3 million people in more than 30 countries have checked out ABBA MANIA.
“We know what it takes to put on a show of this magnitude,” Littlewood said. “We’ve put in our time on the road.”
With more than 3,000 shows under their belt and 10 tours of America, Littlewood knows what works and what is to be avoided.
“It’s about the songs, which are so great,” he said. “You need to know what to play.”
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When ABBA MANIA plays Saturday (1/25) at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids, expect a plethora of anthemic hits. But what favorites will be delivered?
“It might sound obvious what to play, but it isn’t,” Littlewood said. “Sure, there are the no doubt about it songs like ‘Mamma Mia,’ ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Take a Chance on Me.’”
However, some ABBA songs that are massive in Europe fail to strike a chord in America, including the UK smash “Thank You for the Music.”
“That song is absolutely massive in Europe,” Littlewood said. “But when we played it during a key part of the show in America a few years ago, Americans just didn’t respond like I imagined they would.”
Littlewood experienced the same thing when he managed a Queen cover band about a decade ago. Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga” did very well in Europe but flopped when the Queen tribute band performed it in the United States.
“We’re trying to make everyone as happy as possible and some songs just don’t work as well as other songs,” Littlewood said. “We want to keep the crowd as up as possible and appeal to everyone. During a recent show, I had my daughter out, and she’s 4 years old, and my wife’s grandmother, who is 96. ABBA has a wide range of fans and a wide range of songs.”
ABBA is an acronym of the original members’ first names: Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad.
Littlewood scoured the globe before selecting his troupe. Kirbi Jo Long, who hails from Omaha is his Agnetha, Amy Edwards from Sydney, Australia, portrays Anni-Frid, fellow Aussie James Allen is Bjorn and Atlanta’s Jeff Pike channels his inner Benny.
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“This is the most fun I ever had onstage,” Long said. “I didn’t know much about ABBA when I joined in 2013, but I love this group of people. A big reason it’s so amazing is that we’re like a family and we fit together as a group. We’re the perfect people for the job. This wouldn’t fly if we weren’t all in sync.”
“If you don’t have the right people, the show isn’t going to work,” Littlewood said. “We’ve put together a production with the people who look the part, have the talent and the energy. That’s why ABBA MANIA has worked well for years.”
Each city has a different impact on the cast members. Long is looking forward to returning to the heartland, since she misses Omaha.
“We’re aware where we play,” she said. “I can’t wait to perform in Cedar Rapids because I miss how kind, generous and friendly the Midwest audiences are. I relate to them. Broadway wasn’t close to me in Omaha when I was growing up, and it’s not close to Cedar Rapids. But we put on a show with a massive production and in terms of entertainment value, this is going to be a fun show for whoever comes out to see us in Cedar Rapids.”
• What: ABBA MANIA
• Where: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday (1/25)
• Tickets: $30 to $40; Paramount Ticket Office, (319) 366-8203 or Creventslive.com/events/2020/abba-mania
• Show’s website: Abbamania.com