UNCOVERED: Ray Hogg on ‘WHY ABBA, WHY NOW”?
One of the questions that is most on my mind these days is: How do I craft an artistic program in 2022 without the pandemic being front and centre in the works we produce? Ignore the pandemic (and of course the massive cultural shift that occurred in the wake of George Flloyd’s murder) and risk being woefully out of touch. Or, keep the artistic focus on the crises of our time and risk being tragically on the nose (not to mention depressing).
On the surface, a real lose/lose situation.
But, I am a deep thinker and have been looking for another path. A path to crafting a program that is fresh, vibrant, and necessary. Note that I list ‘necessary’ and not ‘relevant.’ Pursuing relevance feels very wrong to me. Seeking relevance feels like an endless chasing of trends and fads. Not my style. I am much more interested in teasing out programming that feels necessary. It means I spend my deep thinking time pondering our collective needs.
So what do we need in 2022, and how in the heck did I arrive at this program anyways? The shortest answer is: I love parties, and I wanted The Musical Stage Company to host a really fun party in a way that felt authentic to who we are as a company.
I think the thing that I have missed the most since March 2020 is hosting parties – a theme that I have heard many of my friends and colleagues echo. As a society, we miss gathering for good times! My husband and I used to host an epic New Year’s Eve party with 150 guests. We hosted equally epic monthly pub nights where we would home cook enough pub food to feed a small army. And, when we had kids, we began hosting increasingly outrageous theme parties for them, their friends, and our family (one time we created an actual indoor beach in our family room for a mermaid party).
So how does a company, known for thought-provoking, socially relevant musicals throw a barn burner of a party?
Well, my co-conspirator and musical genius, Reza Jacobs and I went in search of the most compositionally complex and lyrically profound music that also passed the party test (aka a funky beat). Surprisingly, the music of ABBA lies at the nexus of those three ideas: great music, deep lyrics, and a danceable beat. When I thought back to the New Years’, pub nights, and kid’s parties in our pre-pandemic house, at some point or another, the music of ABBA would blare from our speakers and without fail our kitchen dance floor would be packed with revellers singing along at the tops of their lungs.
When I asked Reza what he thought about the music of ABBA, his first response was “This music is in the marrow of my bones…” As we dove deeper into the ABBA catalogue, and into the lives of the four band mates we discovered that everything they went through as a quartet is rich with drama. Their marriages, divorces, fame, and punishing touring schedule created a pressure cooker environment that produced mega-hit after mega-hit, but that also forced the bandmates into a strange isolation; an inescapable pressure cooker with just enough room for four…
One day Reza turned to me and said: “You know Ray, the confinement that they went through as superstars, and their search for freedom is so relatable – it’s exactly what we’ve been through during the pandemic…”
And that, friends, is when I knew we had hit on the right choice. ABBA allows us to reflect on the isolation that the pandemic brought upon us AND their music allows us to feed our need to party. From an artistic angle, ABBA’s music both serves as the soundtrack to many of our lives and also carries an astonishing depth and honesty in the stories that each song tells. I can’t wait to see how you respond to this concert that the inspired eyes and ears of Reza and his team of first-rate collaborators (Fiona Sauder, Kevin Wong, and Jason Spetter) concoct.