Stars and royalty follow ABBA’s return in a digital stage show

LONDON – “ABBA Voyage” is certainly a journey.

Four decades after the Swedish pop supergroup last performed live, audiences can see ABBA back on stage in an innovative digital concert where past and future collide.

The show opens on Friday, the day after a red carpet premiere attended by superfans, celebrities and Sweden’s King Carl XVI. Gustaf and Queen Silvia attended, opened to the public in London. The guests of honor were pop stars – the four members of ABBA making their first public appearance together in years.

However, they were in the audience. Taking to the stage at the purpose-built 3,000-seat ABBA Arena adjacent to the Olympic Park in east London was a live 10-piece backing band and digital ABBA, using motion capture and other technology from Industrial Light and Magic inspired by Star Wars -director George Lucas.

The voices and movements are the real Agnetha Faltskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad – choreographed by Briton Wayne McGregor – but the performers on stage are digital avatars, inevitably dubbed “ABBA-Tars”. In disturbingly realistic detail, they show the band members as they looked in their 1970s heyday—beards on the men, flowing curls on the women, velor pants suits everywhere.

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The result is high-tech and high-camp at the same time, a glittering supernova of amazing technology, 70s nostalgia and pop music genius.

For many in the audience, it was almost like stepping back in time as ABBA performed classics like Mamma Mia, Knowing Me, Knowing You, SOS and Dancing Queen. The upbeat 90-minute set also includes tracks from Voyage, the reunion album the band released last year.

It’s a fusion of tribute act and 3D concert film that defies description. Sometimes you could forget that this wasn’t a live performance, but when the backing singers stepped forward to belt out “Does Your Mother Know,” a surge of live musical energy shot through the arena.

The four band members – two married couples during ABBA’s heyday, although they are now long since divorced – received a rapturous ovation as they bowed at the end of Thursday’s show, 50 years after they formed ABBA and 40 years after they stopped performing live to perform.

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Watching his younger self perform must be an odd sensation, but the band members, who are now in their 70s, said they loved the show.

“I never thought I had such amazing moves,” Ulvaeus said.

Lyngstad agreed: “I thought I was pretty good, but I’m even better.”

Ulvaeus said the audience’s reaction was the most satisfying part of the experience.

“There’s an emotional connection between the avatars and the audience,” he said. “That’s the fantastic thing.”

The producers describe the show as “revolutionary”. We will see. Like the first viewers to see talkie a century ago, participants may wonder if they are watching a gimmick or the future.

Times of London reviewer Will Hodgkinson judged the show to be “essentially an ABBA singalong with added sound and light show”, although he called the effect “captivating”. Writing in The Guardian, Alexis Petridis called the concert “amazing” and said: “It’s been so successful that it’s hard to imagine other artists not doing the same.”

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Gimmick or genius, ABBA Voyage is booked in London until May 2023, after which a world tour is planned.

The fans who attended Thursday’s show are simply thrilled that ABBA is back.

“I’m so excited,” said Kristina Hagman, a Swede who has been a fan since the 1970s.

“I was bullied so much because you couldn’t like ABBA back then because it was so commercial,” she said. “But now we’re getting our revenge.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/entertainment/2022/05/27/stars-and-royalty-watch-abbas-return-in-digital-stage-show/ Stars and royalty follow ABBA’s return in a digital stage show

Sarah Y. Kim

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