Mark Thomas was listening to a friend commiserate over a less-than-successful gig when something she said caught his ear.
The friend mentioned that the gig was tanking until they played some ABBA tunes. That was the light bulb moment when he got the idea to form ABBA Mania, a tribute to one of the most popular musical groups of all time.
ABBA Mania visits Naperville for an 8 p.m. show on March 21 at Pfeiffer Hall on the North Central College campus.
Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Agnetha Faltskog, collectively known as ABBA, dominated the charts during the 1970s and earned nine No. 1 hits in the United Kingdom. ABBA has sold more than 370 million records worldwide, making them one of the best-selling bands in history.
Thomas created ABBA Mania in 1998 and the act played their first show in 2000. He plays drums in the band. The cast includes Toby Boyle as Bjorn, Carley Broom as Agnetha, Danny Gluckstein as Benny and Katrina Wallis as Anni-Frid.
Thomas got the idea to create a show dedicated to ABBA when listening to his friend talk about playing a wedding gig.
“I’ve always appreciated their amazing work. I was on my home from a show in Belgium and I spoke to a band member friend of mind. The previous weekend, she had been playing at a friend’s wedding and it wasn’t going too well, until they started playing some ABBA tunes and everybody got up and started to dance,” he said.
“She said was it was instant. It was amazing. I was ready for my next musical project and as we were talking about this, the (song) ‘Dancing Queen’ came on. I thought, ‘Oh well, there you go.’ I set about writing it on the remainder of the flight and on my way home. It took us two years to put the show together, but it’s been great ever since.”
Is he surprised the act is still together? Yes and no, he said.
“If you would have asked me that in the first year, I really wasn’t expecting the show to last more than a year, maybe 18 months. But when you start to see the reaction we get from audiences – because of the music, the music is just so good; they’re terrific songs. So no, it doesn’t surprise me. And if I’ve got the energy, it will still be going in another 20 years. It’s my pension fund.”
He thinks there are many reasons people still carry a torch for the Swedish group 30-plus years later. For starters, it’s a very likeable, good-looking collection of people.
“Secondly, the songs are so well-crafted. They’re incredibly well-written. The girls were terrific singers and the guys were great musicians,” he said. “Everywhere you looked with this band, the level of talent was very high indeed. It doesn’t surprise me at all they’re still enjoyed today.”
The idea for the show came from some shows that ABBA played at the found Royal Albert Hall in London. ABBA was due to play two concerts there. They had 5,000 tickets available, and two millions requests for tickets.
“You certainly realized that there is an enormous market for this band,” Thomas said. “Essentially, what we did is put together the concert you would have seen if you’d have been lucky enough to get a ticket for that concert. It’s effectively a live ABBA show.”
ABBA Mania does its best to capture the live essence of that night, from their costumes to the choreography to the song selection, he said.
Unfortunately, Thomas said, he has never seen ABBA live, being too young when they were touring. But ABBA can’t say the same about them – members from ABBA have seen ABBA Mania, he said, as have some cast members from the show, “Mamma Mia.”
ABBA member Bjorn has seen the act and was “very complimentary,” Thomas said.
Fans are positive as well, he said.
“We get some very kind audience members,” he said. “You have to capture the essence of what it would have been like to see ABBA live. The most regular thing we hear is that people have just had a great night listening to some amazing songs.
“It never seems like work. Even after all these years, I’m still really, really enjoying playing the show. It’s great fun.”