This weekend, Helsinki’s Svenska Teatern (the Swedish National Theatre) unveiled a new production of the Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice musical Chess på Svenska.
Adapted for the Finnish stage by Lars Rudolfsson and directed by Maria Sid, the show closely follows the original Swedish format. A couple of notable differences being the inclusion of another song, Sanninges minut (The Moment Of Truth), created through the addition of lyrics, written by Björn, to a section of End Game and a comical send-up of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in place of the circus style acts just before The Deal. It also incorporates the Press Conference scene first introduced in Gothenburg.
The cast, led by Maria Yilpää as Florence, Glenn Edell in the role of the American Freddie Trumper, Johanna Ström as Svetlana and Alexander Lycke as the Russian Anatolij Serievskij, together with Kristofer Möller as Molokov and Silva Lillrank playing the first ever female Arbiter, all give outstanding performances.
In comparison with the English National Opera’s recent lavish production of CHESS, the staging at Svenska Teatern is quite minimalistic. The plot is easily followed though in this pared down production which allows the magnificent score to shine.
Speaking to icethesite after the show, Benny said that he is delighted with how his music sounds.
“Anders Eljas has done a really great job with the orchestral arrangements, and the acoustics in Svenska Teatern are just wonderful,” he said. “It has been a pure joy to work with so many talented artists in a setting such as this. I don’t think I have ever heard Nobody’s Side sound as good!”
With the reviews so far being some of the best in the history of the musical and many critics awarding the production the coveted maximum five stars, the press are hailing Chess på Svenska a huge success.
Saturday’s premiere audience showed their appreciation with a standing ovation accompanied by plenty of foot stomping and whoops of delight as the cast took their curtain calls.
So, does Benny think the Svenska Teatern’s production may be getting close to the much talked about ‘definitive version’ of the musical?
“No! But as the song almost goes… each show of Chess means there’s one less variation left to be played!” he laughed.
Chess på Svenska runs in Helsinki until Spring 2019. Tickets are available now through the theatre’s official website svenskateatern.fi
On Monday 16 July 2018 at London’s Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again received its world premiere. Released to the wider world on 20 July, the movie has already smashed box office records around the globe.
At the after premiere party in London, Björn told icethesite about the reception the premiere crowd had given the movie:
“It was absolutely fantastic. The event was really quite special with all the actors gathered on the stage before the showing. The reaction was something else!”
And how was it that ‘Mamma Mia! 2’ finally came into being?
“Well the story has to serve the songs and the other way around of course. And we waited until we had a script that everyone agreed we could work with. Ol Parker did a brilliant job of weaving the story together and then we could see that there was a second movie in there after all!”
What was it like revisiting decades old songs in order to rewrite lyrics for the movie?
“Movie songs have to serve the story and where it was felt that the originals didn’t quite hit a particular moment on the head, I was more than happy to make a few changes here and there. Where in the ABBA recordings the stories were self contained, with the movie I had to ensure that they fitted the wider story.
“The new lyrics came to me pretty quickly and they felt very organic.
“For My Love, My Life to be set in a church meant that revisiting it in its new setting had religious overtones for me.”
Even though you are an atheist?
“Even though and maybe because of. Religion is a fascinating subject to me.”
Have Agnetha and Frida seen the movie yet?
“Not yet but I am pretty sure they will be very happy, as we are, when they do. It’s a good flick.”
What is certain to be a huge Summer blockbuster of a movie is almost out of the starting gate. Benny Andersson has been at work with the team in Los Angeles putting the finishing touches to the sound mix of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again that will be heard in cinemas all around the globe soon.
Benny told icethesite about the movie mix sessions: “It is such a joy to work together with people who are so skilled at what they are doing. Every single one of them. Totally concentrated on their separate working stations but always with a sharp eye on the whole. An amazing experience again, just like it was on the first film 10 years ago.”
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is both sequel and prequel to the original Mamma Mia! movie and stars Lily James (Young Donna), Amanda Seyfried (Sophie), Dominic Cooper (Sky), Andy Garcia (Señor Cienfuegos), Meryl Streep (Donna), Pierce Brosnan (Sam), Colin Firth (Harry), Christine Baranski (Tanya), Stellan Skarsgård (Bill), Julie Walters (Rosie), Cher (Ruby Sheridan), Jeremy Irvine (Young Sam), Celia Imrie, (Vice Chancellor), Hugh Skinner (Young Harry) and Josh Dylan (Young Bill). The director is Ol Parker.
Those close to the production have revealed that ABBA songs featured in the new movie include One Of Us, When I Kissed The Teacher, Angeleyes, Waterloo, Fernando, I’ve Been Waiting For You, Why Did It Have To Be Me?, Kisses Of Fire, and My Love, My Life among others.
The film which is distributed by Universal Pictures picks up the story ten years after the original film ends when Sophie learns all about how her mother Donna met her three ‘dads’.
The world premiere of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again will be in London on 16 July. The film will officially open in most territories on 20 July.
On Monday 7 May, five years to the day since it first opened on the Stockholm island of Djurgården, ABBA The Museum unveiled its new, much anticipated, ‘After ABBA’ exhibition.
Celebrating the musical careers of the four ABBA members since their ‘break’ in 1982, the exhibition, which occupies the space that previously housed The Swedish Music Hall of Fame, features individual areas dedicated to Agnetha and Frida’s after ABBA careers, plus sections for the Benny and Björn musicals Mamma Mia!, CHESS, Kristina från Duvemåla and Hjälp sökes. Also featured of course is Benny’s latest band, Benny Anderssons Orkester (BAO).
As in the original section of the museum, the post-ABBA journey begins with a short video montage. Once inside, visitors are surrounded by beautifully lit costumes, scenery and props from the musicals, gold discs, rare photographs and memorabilia plus never-before-seen videos.
There are also a variety of interactive activities including the chance to conduct a virtual orchestra playing music from the CHESS score, dancing to BAO on a wooden dance floor alongside strings of coloured lights (just like the real BAO shows), singing along with Benny collaborator and BAO member Kalle Moraeus, repainting Donna’s villa on the set of Mamma Mia! and trivia quizzes.
Museum Director Caroline Fagerlind said: “We want to tell the full story of the band. We want to show visitors that ABBA have kept their creativity alive, that they are still around us today and that their story continues to grow.”
As you leave the exhibition, which is a permanent addition to the museum, the words ‘To be continued…’ are inscribed along the wall.
Last Monday’s official opening ceremony, attended by Björn Ulvaeus, was followed by an evening party for 200 invited guests including Benny Andersson, Görel Hanser, Helen Sjöholm, Peter Jöback, Tommy Körberg, Ingmarie Halling, ABBA’s costume designer Owe Sandström, sound engineer Michael B Tretow, guitar player Janne Schaffer, photographer Anders Hanser, Benny’s son Peter with wife Nanne and a handful of lucky fans.
During the celebrations, to the delight of the party-goers, Benny took to his accordion and together with a few of his BAO bandmates played two instrumental tracks, BAO’s ever-popular Cirkus finemang and The Soviet Machine from the musical CHESS.
Afterwards, Benny told icethesite how he has been actively engaged with the project from the outset: “I’ve read through all the analogue and digital texts on display and watched the videos,” he said.
“They also asked me to choose the music for the virtual conductor and I thought that the instrumental introduction to Bangkok would be tricky enough,” he laughed.
However, despite this involvement Benny said he has yet to see the finished exhibition: “I’ve seen some pictures though and I think it looks really nice,” he told us.
A new compilation CD ‘after ABBA’ released to tie in with the launch of the exhibition and which features the brand new Arturo Sandoval/Frida cover of ABBA’s Andante, Andante is available exclusively at the museum shop.
Check out the ABBA The Museum website for tickets to see the new exhibition for yourself.
CHESS is officially up and running again in London’s West End. The Benny Andersson, Tim Rice and Björn Ulvaeus musical has finished its previews at the home of the English National Opera and last night launched to the press. We had a chance to chat with some of the cast and creatives about their involvement in this epic revival.
Benny told us: “This is how Björn and I have always envisioned CHESS. A large and wonderful orchestra, a powerful choir and a great rock band form the backbone of the score. Then add in some great voices and performances from the principals, like we have here, and well, I will definitely be coming back to see it again.”
Sir Tim said that he was delighted by the ENO’s treatment of the show that was last in the West End over thirty years ago. “I think this production is magnificent. Truly spectacular and so well crafted and staged. It sounds glorious.”
Florence, the role first played by Elaine Paige, who was among the audience last night, is played by Cassidy Janson (who played Carole King in the West End version of Beautiful). She brings her character’s journey of passion and pain alive to great tear-jerking effect.
She told icethesite that she was loving every moment of performing in CHESS and that to be at The London Coliseum was a dream come true. “I already don’t want it to end,” she said.
Michael Ball has long sung the show stopping Anthem in his concert tours and has always wanted to perform the role of Anatoly. He said he is relishing this opportunity to sing with the 60 piece orchestra of the ENO…”and who wouldn’t?!” he said.
Cedric Neal is The Arbiter, keeping a masterful eye on proceedings at the World Chess Championships, and bringing a rich vocal twist to his numbers, squeezing in a few intricate runs here and there.
The role of Anatoly’s wife, Svetlana Sergievsky’s has been expanded from the London production of the 1980s and is performed superbly at The Coliseum by Alexandra Burke.
The part now includes a song new to London, imported from Chess på Svenska (the hit Swedish CHESS production). He Is A Man, He Is A Child helps establish Svetlana’s character and the emotional journey she finds herself on as Act Two begins.
Alexandra told us: “I’ll be honest, I didn’t know CHESS, the score or the show before the part came along. I agreed to the role when I learned of the credentials of the team behind this production, the fact it is the ENO, that it is here at The Coliseum and that Tim Rice, and Benny and Björn from ABBA had written the music.
Then when I knew who my fellow cast members were going to be and we started rehearsing this amazing music with the incredible orchestra, I absolutely knew I had made the right decision.”
Tim Howar plays Frederick Trumper, the troubled American chess player who vies for the world title with Anatoly in Act One. He is particularly sensational during Pity The Child, often dubbed ‘Pity The Singer’ due to its emotional complexity and wide musical range.
However, Tim said he was originally tried out for the role of The Arbiter. “When Benny and Björn saw the videos of my Arbiter performance, they suggested instead that the production had found its Freddie Trumper. “We need a rock guy,” they said.
“I am a huge CHESS fan and have been for years, even performing the show in an amateur dramatics society years ago back in Canada. At first I just wanted to be a part, any part of this London show if I could, but when I landed the role of the American, I knew that I could bring memories of certain episodes from my own past family history to the role and at the same time have a blast every night.”
Tim hit the headlines when he had to leave at the end of the first act of the first preview of CHESS last Thursday.
On hearing that his wife Jodie Oliver-Howar had gone into labour, he rushed to be by her side. Their son Hamish might have stolen his dad away from CHESS at the first preview but incredibly at just four days old, he was there to add his support on press night!
The entire creative team, from set and lighting designers, the phenomenal orchestra under the baton of John Rigby, the chorus and all the principals (special mention too for Philip Browne’s menacing Molokov) have breathed new life into CHESS.
In this guise, the story appears much clearer without obvious signposting and each number is given a fresh, thoughtful musical and theatrical treatment.
Benny, Tim and Björn each loved it and that really is high praise!
Benny Andersson has been in London this weekend on both CHESS and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again duties but broke off from his busy schedule for a few words with icethesite.
Have you heard much of CHESS while you have been visiting the ENO?
Yes, I spent all day at the Coliseum yesterday and I have to say that from a musical and sound aspect, I am more than happy. To hear 50 or so musicians in a theatre playing your music so well is really something special.
I am hopefully going to see more of the actual show tomorrow when the whole cast is together but I am feeling very confident that the musical aspect will be wonderful. John Rigby is doing a fantastic job, as are the sound guys.
As well as CHESS, you are here doing work for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, what does that involve?
Yes, this trip is all about working on the score for the film. Anne Dudley has written some wonderful stuff. The final cinematic mix will fall to the studio in Los Angeles and I’ll go there in the first week of June. I have recorded the songs themselves and they are all mixed for the CD but the film music mix is what we are working on currently.
Björn has been talking about the avatars project and a TV show based around ABBA that’s in the works. Can you elaborate?
Yes, as part of the journey towards the live avatars concert project, we are also making a TV show to be produced by the BBC and NBC*.
Our sights are still firmly set on the big live production experience and lots of work is still ongoing with regard to making that as good as it can possibly be.
The stage designer Es Devlin is helping us creatively with that and her work is absolutely incredible, so it is very exciting.
My next task in the recording studio will be on that project.
Note: *Early versions of this article said ABC, an error which we are happy to correct.
CHESS was recently staged in Washington D.C. and there has been much talk of a Broadway return for the show…
The principals on that show were terrific and it was also very funny. We don’t know quite yet what we are planning with regards to taking the show back to Broadway but we are talking about it.
Will you and Björn will be attending the ENO CHESS press night at The Coliseum on 1 May in London?
We recently caught up with Görel Hanser and had the opportunity to chat about her incredible career and her approach to work and business.
Görel started working at the offices of Stikkan (Stig) Anderson’s publishing company Sweden Music and the record company Polar Music in September 1969. She worked her way from being Stig’s secretary to Vice President of Polar Music.
During the ABBA years she handled the contacts with the many labels around the world who released the group’s records. She also became ABBA’s personal manager, dealing with the press and accompanying them on their tours and promotional trips. In the process, she became a personal friend of the individual members as well.
When ABBA ceased working as a group, Görel continued working for Sweden Music and Polar but in 1987 she started her own company Music & Artist Service Görel Hanser.
She continues to work with Benny to this day, including handling the practicalities of Benny’s solo work, his work with Benny Anderssons Orkester and the Benny Andersson/Björn Ulvaeus musicals.
Can you tell us about how your office at Södra Brobänken 41 has changed over the years?
We originally moved into this building in 1992 as a base for Benny’s Mono Music label and had about 5 people here then, Benny, me and some finance and publishing staff.
We gradually grew in size, particularly when Benny and Björn’s musical Kristina från Duvemåla came along. The show brought with it a lot of work, not only for the run in Malmö, where Kristina had its world premiere but also later on in Stockholm, where the Cirkus theatre had to undergo a major refit in order to host the show.
When you are putting up a production that features 45 orchestra members, 50 to 60 people in the cast and a large number of people working backstage, there is a lot of organising involved and a lot of people to look after. It was hard work both for me and the office. Looking back on those days maybe I am glad that I didn’t know quite how tough it was going to be. It’s sometimes better not to know these things beforehand!
At the same time as we were putting on Kristina, we were also still running Mono Music, Benny had started Benny Anderssons Orkester and I had started my own company managing artists like Tommy Körberg and Helen Sjöholm.
Over time, we gathered good, competent, experienced people around us, and that helped us not only with Kristina through its Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm runs, but subsequently Chess på Svenska which ran at Cirkus for three seasons and Mamma Mia! for four.
During my time working with Stikkan Anderson, he instilled in me a sense that I could manage things and manage them well. He was like an encouraging school teacher, he would say “You can do this.” and “I trust you.” The faith he showed has given me a sense of self-belief which has been very valuable.
And while the set up here has changed considerably over the years, one thing most definitely hasn’t and that is that there has honestly never been a single boring day in this job.
Can you describe your typical daily work routine?
I cycle into the office every day, and of course the first thing I do is open my emails. That is if I haven’t already done that from home.
Recently there have been a lot of dealings with Deutsche Grammophon…they are requesting more promotion with Benny for his Piano album. In addition, ABBA as a group may be no more but ABBA’s legacy is still very much alive and takes up a lot of time. I speak to Mia Segolsson who runs Polar Music many times a week. Mia is responsible for the ABBA releases etc.
There are frequent big requests along the lines of ‘Can we do this with an ABBA song?’ down to very small requests. But whatever the demand might be, whether big or small, I try and give it my very best attention.
‘ABBA The Museum’ here in Stockholm and ‘The ABBA Exhibition’ on the South Bank in London have also required a lot of input.
It is important that I follow up on every single matter that crosses my desk, making sure everybody and everything is taken care of in a professional way.
Can you describe how your work differs now from what you were doing when ABBA were at their peak?
My work, when I started in this business, was mostly concentrated around ABBA. They released roughly one album a year and with those releases came a lot of work. Without technology to support us it was very different back then too.
Record company people would fly in from all over the world to collect the master tapes, and we would need to ensure that each individual territory got the correct versions of the covers, the tapes, the lyrics, the release details and so on.
We would also co-ordinate the schedule for the group regarding TV appearances, photo sessions, interviews etc. This was the big stuff but we would also be involved right down to the small things too and that was how we wanted it and how it worked best for us.
Back then, it was a world of telexes, fax machines, of magnetic punched cards (used on our very early computers), telegrams – I recall having to read out many messages on the phone to the telegram company – and of course piles and piles of letters.
Stikkan’s wife Gudrun was very good with new technology and helped push us forward back then, she was the one who introduced me to my very first fax machine.
I have enjoyed watching how technology has advanced over the years but in all honesty, I still think of myself as being essentially ‘analogue in a digital world’.
What would you say are particular standout moments from your career?
Dancing Queen hitting the number one spot on the Billboard Chart, the opening of Kristina från Duvemåla in Malmö, the release of Klinga mina klockor (Benny’s first solo album and the first Mono Music release) and recently a special highlight was winning my Swedish Grammy.
Benny and Björn’s diverse musical output has ensured that your career has encompassed so many different worlds (Broadway, West End, film, classical music, pop etc.) – do you find that dealing in these different circles requires a different approach from you?
I am the person that I am, which means that I hope to treat everyone I meet with respect regardless of whatever world or professional background they may come from. I am driven to do my best and whether I am arranging a concert, a theatre show, a tour or a record release, I hope that if you are working with me that you feel like you are being treated well.
Some people are very easy to deal with and some people are more challenging, of course. Sometimes it’s a matter of really listening to someone and working out what adjustments may be possible to move forward to everyone’s satisfaction.
How would you describe Benny?
Devoted, musical genius, warm-hearted.
How would you describe Björn?
Curious, masterful lyricist, entrepreneur.
And finally, what are you most looking forward to working on or seeing come to fruition in 2018?
The virtual ABBA project and the opening of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again are two big things coming up but whatever comes my way, I look forward to maintaining a good working atmosphere around us all which encourages people to do their best work and to love it at the same time.
Many thanks to Görel for chatting with us and also to Carl Magnus Palm for the bio at the start of this article.
This year sees a host of new professional productions of the Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice musical CHESS on both sides of the Atlantic.
In February, the Tony Award winning producer, Michael Meyer, presented a new semi-staged concert version of CHESS at the Kennedy Centre in Washington D.C., to open the theatre’s ‘Broadway Center Stage’ season of short-run shows.
The five night only production which featured a revised book by Emmy Award winning writer, Danny Strong and a re-ordering of the musical’s songs, was staged with the full support of Benny, Björn and Tim Rice.
“We have all been behind this production from the outset,” Benny told us. “Björn, Tim and my son Ludvig went over to meet with the producers last year and I met the musical director in London,” he said.
The all-star cast including, Ramin Karimloo (Anatoly), Raul Esparza (Freddie), Ruthie Ann Miles (Svetlana) and Karen Olivo (Florence), were backed by a stellar team of decorated choreographers, lighting, sound, costume and set designers.
Simply staged, the cast sat on chairs for a large part of the performance, while the 19 strong Opera House Orchestra played behind them, elevated on platforms of scaffolding adorned with oversized Chess pieces. The set consisted mainly of two giant projection screens showing period news clips from the Carter/Reagan Cold War era.
However, despite unanimous praise for CHESS’ musical score along with the cast’s vocal performances and Danny Strong’s new book being described as sharp and funny, the reviews from the press have been somewhat mixed. With a running time of 2 hours 50 minutes the show was generally considered to be too long and the story has been criticised as contrived and convoluted. On the other hand, “Come for the sublime Broadway performances. Stay for the fresh book and the rock ’n roll.” said another.
According to Benny, their initial aim had been to take the show back to Broadway, however the final decision as to whether it will go further has yet to be made.
“It is still very much on the cards,” he said. “But we shall see…”
Running from mid-January until the end of March, this first professional Danish language version of CHESS is scheduled to play at 5 venues across Denmark:
19 January – 17 February : Tivoli Concert Hall, Copenhagen
20 February – 3 March : Musikhuset, Aarhus
6 March – 10 March : Odeon
13 March – 17 March : Musikteater, Vejle
21 March – 24 March : Musikteatret, Holstebro
The touring company, directed by Mark Clements, stars Stig Rossen as the Russian, Anatoly Sergievski, Bjarne Langhoff as the American, Freddie Trumper, Pernille Peterson in the role of Svetlana and Xenia Lach-Nielsen as Florence, while Jakob Zethner plays Molokov and Kristian Vetter, The Arbiter.
The cast are backed by an orchestra consisting of just seventeen musicians with music specifically re-arranged for their small number by Anders Eljas.
The tour has received a host of five star reviews from the Danish press and although neither Benny nor Björn have had any involvement with or yet seen the production, their personal representative, Görel Hanser, did travel to Copenhagen to watch a performance and has given the show her approval.
A collection of images and video footage from the production along with all the performance details and ticket information can be found on the tour’s official website.
On 26 April the English National Opera (ENO) will present the first West End production of CHESS for over thirty years at The London Coliseum.
The ENO’s award winning orchestra and chorus will be joined by Michael Ball as Anatoly, Alexandra Burke as Svetlana, Tim Howar as Freddie and Cassidy Janson as Florence.
Murray Head, who played Freddie Trumper in the original London production and scored an international hit in 1984 with the single, One Night In Bangkok, from the CHESS concept album, returns to the musical in the role of The Arbiter.
Benny has told us that although the precise format of the ENO production has not yet been agreed, it will be predominantly based on the Swedish concert version with a little from the 1986 London production added in.
“Maybe there will be costumes and some sets,” he said, “I’m not entirely sure, but probably not a full staging,” he concluded.
All the musical arrangements and orchestration, which Benny hopes will include the song He’s A Man, He’s A Child, written for Chess på Svenska in 2002 and therefore not previously performed in the West End, is being undertaken by Anders Eljas.
Tickets for the production, which will run for a limited five week period until 2 June 2018, are available now on the ENO’s official website.
Following the enormous success of their previously staged Benny and Björn musicals, Kristina från Duvemåla and Mamma Mia!, Svenska Teatern are, this Autumn, launching a production of Chess på Svenska.
The show will feature both a newly edited script from Lars Rudolfsson and fresh orchestrations by Anders Eljas.
Although the full cast has not yet been announced, we do know that it will be produced by Maria Sid and star Maria Ylipää as Florence with Alexander Lycke in the role of Anatoly.
Benny has confirmed that he will be actively involved with the production which premieres in Helsinki on 8 September. Tickets for performances up to 31 January 2019 are currently available via Svenska Teatern’s official website.
With all the current interest in CHESS, we asked Benny if there was more to come?
“The corpse is moving!” he joked.