It’s throwback August for the El Paso Symphony Orchestra and the El Paso Playhouse with a time trip back to the 70s and 80s. The next couple weeks bring two of the era’s cultural giants: the musical group ABBA and the comedy genius playwright Neil Simon. 

EPSO meets ABBA

Every August, our orchestra trades classical music for classic rock. We’ve loved ending our summers with great tribute bands conjuring up Queen, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles.

This year, it’s ABBA, that iconic Swedish pop group whose label comes from the first letters of the foursome’s names: Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid. 

The two married couples soared from 1974 to 1983, before divorces struck the onstage harmony. But before they did, ABBA turned out hit after hit. 

“We all know the music of ABBA,” said James O. Welch, now in his third year as music director of the El Paso Symphony Youth Orchestras and EPSO associate conductor.

He’ll be leading a pared-down orchestra to accompany the tribute band. 

“That night I’m going to have to work hard to detach my conducting duties from what anybody would want to do, which is singing your heart out,” Welch said. 

Welch clearly remembers hearing ABBA records as a child.

His father had a large vinyl collection and would play one album each night during supper to educate his kids about music, from classical to rock.

When Welch heard ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” he knew the band was something special. 

“Feel free to wear attire from the 70s or 80s,” added Welch. “But the main thing is to be comfortable at this concert. Come ready to have unadulterated fun.” 

If you need an extra dose of “Super Trouper,” “Money, Money, Money,” “Mama Mia,” “Waterloo,” and “Voulez-Vous,” don’t miss the symphony’s 89th anniversary gala, “Dancing Queen” on Friday, Aug. 23. 

The guest artists – four singers, with lead and bass guitars, keyboards, and drums – will absolutely rock the El Paso Country Club. 

 

One joke after another

One of the most important playwrights and screenwriters of our time, Neil Simon, brought us “The Odd Couple,” “The Lonely Guy,” “The Out-of-Towners,” and nearly 60 other plays and movies. 

Now the El Paso’s longest running theater group, El Paso Playhouse, is presenting Simon’s “Rumors.” 

“This play will tickle your funny bone with one joke after another,” said Jean Ames, a veteran director at the 56-year-old community theater. “The dialogue is hysterical.” 

“Timing is everything in these comedies, especially when you have eight actors on the stage going every which way all the time,” Ames said. 

Like so many Simon plots, this one is set in New York City. 

All the action takes place during a posh anniversary dinner party in a Manhattan townhouse – a party that starts with the host shooting himself.

“Be ready for some surprises,” Ames said. 

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