Super(trooper) celebration

The Ultimate ABBA Experience (Lynch & Paterson)

Twelfth Night Theatre

May 5 – 15

‘70s Swedish pop phenomenon ABBA never performed inBrisbane (the band’s 1977 tour took them only to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth), but the city is clearly full of dancing queens. With an audience featuring some fans in disco jumpsuits (but alas not cat dresses), the group’s enduring popularity is immediately clear at Lynch & Paterson’s “The Ultimate ABBA Experience”. This sparkliest of celebrations of the enduring pop sensation rightfully takes place under a giant mirror ball, beginning with burst forth of the quintessential, ‘Mamma Mia’. And waving arms, tapping feet and smiling faces are evident throughout the audience from this very first number.

Also clear from the outset is the excellent musicianship of the accompanying orchestra, Cadenza Chamber Players, under conductor, musical director and arranger Lucas D Lynch. Their sharp sounds construct the advance harmonic song scaffolding upon which the performances are built, ensuring that every number is musically textured according to its place on the emotional gamut of ABBA tunes. The orchestra’s strings guide us into the Nordic melancholy of ‘SOS’, beginning a tribute to the band’s greatest hits compilation album, complete with gold aesthetic and huge ABBA lettering (designer and emcee David Lawrence). And a symphonic lead-in to Lawrence’s late-show ‘I Had a Dream’ shows the tremendous talents of the orchestra. A commonality through much of ABBA’s music, whether it be as a ballad or rock anthem, is the piano and repeatedly Lynch also expertly fabrics each song’s unique percussive sound around us.

Energy is infectious and under Maureen Bowra’s direction (and also choreography) the show’s almost two hours duration flies by with audience sing and clap alongs and rise to dance to dynamic numbers like the synthy ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)’ that roars things into interval. Bowar’a choreography is full of vitality, using the full space and all levels of the stage, resulting in some standout moments, such as a moving tableau of the ensemble across the stage in ‘Money, Money, Money’ poses.

The show includes a number of surprises, including lyrical dance as accompaniment to a wistfully nostalgic ‘Fernando’ and a vibrant dancer burst of colour to brighten the steady instrumental build and lavish vocal layering of ‘Chiquitita’. Costumes work well with Tom Dodds’ lighting design and Ben Murray’s sound design to dazzle within each aesthetic palette, reflecting the multiple moods of the night’s set-list.

Talented singers Simon Chamberlain, Michael Nunn Jess Purdy, Nate Stevenson, Ellen Tuffley and music arranger Samantha Paterson show impressive control of the numbers’ intricate vocal harmonies, performing with power and passion. Nunn, in particular, helps to make highlights of an early, swaggersome ‘Rock Me’ and a pounding, flirtatious ‘Does Your Mother Know’. It is, however, Paterson’s uplifting ‘The Winner Takes It All’ that serves as the biggest vocal highlight, with appropriate mid-song applause and huge concluding ovation. The number, which represents the epitome of the band’s personal lyrics, requires a delicate balance given its pop balladry but despairing lyrics, and Paterson not only brings to it a vocal strength, but respect enough not to over-embellish its essential emotions.  

Jennifer B Ashley, Chloe Kiloh, Daniel Terribile and assistant choreographer Luke Woodrow (assistant choreographer) are not only skilled, but have appealing stage presence. Ashley and Terribile, in particular, convey a clear enthusiasm for every moment in their every facial expression. Each number is received with the joy it is shared, even in the case of lesser known songs like ‘So Long’, ‘Head Over Heels’ ‘Summer Night City’ and ‘As Good As You’, which segues seamlessly into the unapologetically disco-esque pace of an alliterative ‘Voulez-Vous’ full of infectious ‘ah haha’s’, and the irresistible glam-pop pinnacle of ‘Waterloo’.

Lynch & Paterson’s “The Ultimate ABBA Experience” is pure gold entertainment… a brilliant production, with lively choreography, super trooper costumes, immaculate musicianship and on-point vocal performances, and it is appropriate that the highly entertaining concert encores to thunderous applause, such is the ABBA-solute feelings of joy it conveys in time-of-your-life celebration of the iconic band’s essential pop classics.

Photos c/o –  PiF Productions

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