ABBAWORLD Sydney

“This is probably the best opening night at the Powerhouse Museum I’ve ever been to”, I told a colleague as we walked around the party. With simple clever staging, and buzz that came from having a “fan” event (rather than the usual C-Grade celebrity suspects), there was a real sense of occasion associated with the opening of ABBA World in Sydney.

The first musical act of the night – re-interpreting ABBA songs – was Katie Noonan. Her beautiful, soaring voice was eminently suited to classic songs – she kept saying “but of course you know this song” – including “Dancing Queen” and “The Winner Takes It All”. It was during “Dancing Queen” I remembered all of the musical discussion there’s been over the years about the vocal range of that song, and though she did a really great job dealing with the range of a song normally covered by two different voices. She and her band re-interpreted the songs in their style, though still remaining true to the essence of both the pop and melancholic elements you most commonly associate with ABBA.

After a brief introduction by the evening’s host Julia Zemiro, we were invited to take our first look at the exhibition. As there were 850 attending – which we discovered from the very friendly, chatty woman whose role was to allow us into the exhibition in an orderly manner – they needed to allow us through in “shifts”. Unfortunately we missed the first shift and had to wait maybe 20 or 25 minutes. That was okay, as we chatted to her and briefly to the people behind us. There was a warm, friendly buzz in the place, so we didn’t mind the wait.

And then finally, we made it into the exhibition. Although I’d been to the exhibition opening in Melbourne, this wasn’t a simple repeat run of what I’d seen there. In some ways, it’s almost a completely different exhibition. Although many of the highlight elements from Melbourne are there – the helicopter, the costumes, the archipelago room and so on – this exhibition has a much stronger “Australian” element. The large amount of early Swedish material has been replaced by large volumes of material associated with ABBA in Australia and the 1976 visit and the 1977 Australian tour. There are also, for example, lots of very personal items from fans in Australia, like scrap-books.

This Australian-ness in the exhibition is also evident in some of the simple text on the wall. They quote, for example from the book by Australian fan, Chris Patrick, and they use a wonderful line from a blog which says, “There is nothing more Australian than an unhealthy relationship with ABBA” (too true). These exhibition quotes also feature lyrics, firmly centreing the exhibition in ABBA’s music.

A lot of the information from the exhibition has also been updated since Melbourne, including for example, some biographical information about Frida, mentioning her October 2010 release of “Morning Has Broken”.

After a good ninety minutes walking around the exhibition – we could have stayed longer – we wandered back to the party. By this time we’d missed Andy Bull singing, and the apparently hilarious trivia competition run by Julia, but were back in time for iOTA. He’s an Australian singer/actor who blurs gender lines in his on-stage performances, and he’s probably, by nature, more inclined to rock than pop. He came on-stage in a wild, red wig and did three songs from the earlier part of ABBA’s career. His versions were more along the lines of some of the ABBA metal and indie cover albums released through the years. He rocked.

From what I could see there was only one “celebrity” in the audience – the Olympic diver Matthew Mitcham (though I suspect he was there because he was a fan, not because he was a celebrity) which gave the event a different feel to many opening nights I’ve been to. Instead there were fans, and there was a lovely family element to the evening with lots of parents attending with their children. There was such a wonderful sense of joy seeing a bunch of kids singing along in the hologram section with absolute joy instead of the usual bunch of 50 year old poofs (I include myself in that).

Overall, it was a great night which I enjoyed very much.