Kristina från Duvemåla to Carnegie Hall (but not without Helen!)

Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter carries a story today about Kristina in Concert at Carnegie Hall.
"There is a thought to take Kristina on tour and ultimately stage the full musical", says Benny.

"But," he continues, "we’re taking things one step at a time. What might come out of the concerts is a piece for orchestras and choirs to be performed on different stages, for example in the USA and England. It may happen that a sort of spin-off interest from the piece occurs."

The September concerts are based on the Kristina workshop that took place in New York a few years ago.

"We did the theatre performance with minimal scenery in a rehearsal hall to see what we had. By then, we thought it would be interesting as a music presentation."

After the auditions the creative team realised that Helen Sjöholm had to be involved, if there were an English production. The other Swedish artistes though, are replaced by American and British singers.

Helen Sjöholm

Helen Sjöholm

"We found no-one who was even close to being as good as Helen, so we had to be sure she was willing to to appear in the concerts before we decided to go ahead with them.  The fact that the other Swedish artists are not involved is because we want to be as close to the English idiom as possible."

About the CD recording, Benny says, "Actually it is one of the reasons that we’ll do the concerts, to get Kristina on record, so that it exist as a recording in English."

Helen Sjöholm says her constant companion is a folder with the English lyrics that she has to learn. "The Swedish lyrics are in my bones", she says, "and so I need to expel them first to find room to put the English lyrics!".

It is clear that there is great interest in the story among Swedish Americans. And this story about immigrants who came to the U.S. in the mid-1800s, is of course very many people’s history.

Björn and Benny are quite the attraction in New York right now, given the success of the Mamma Mia! musical and movie.

Lars Rudolfsson notes with a laugh that Carnegie Hall is well suited for the concert performances, despite the contrasts between the magnificent building and the story of the hard struggle for a better life across the Atlantic.

"The room indeed looks like a cream cake, so it is quite far from the poor conditions that Kristina and Karl-Oskar lived their lives under. However, that is the challenge. We must try to find something that has simplicity…so that the music, lyrics and the singers’ performances are at the very heart of the performances."

Dagens Nyheter – Kristina från Duvemåla till Carnegie Hall

17 thoughts on “Kristina från Duvemåla to Carnegie Hall (but not without Helen!)”

  1. My feelings exactly.Helen is Kristina.
    So glad it’s going to be recorded in english with Helen.

  2. I think it will go very well. I’m sure that the wonderful music, lyrics and performances will support that view. But also, as history holds much interest to most of us, I’m imaging that many of the Americans with Swedish ancestry will be very interested in this concert / the CD recording, and there are many Americans with Swedish ancestry, so this could end up being the next big thing. Let’s hope so :o)

  3. I agree, Tony, but this is amazing music, whatever your background. It might very well be the next big thing.

    As to Helen playing Kristina, I’m a little surprised. She either is or will be 39 this year, I think. Of course, at 39 her voice is probably at about the best it ever has been or ever will be, so that’s no problem. And she could pass for a much younger woman. And I can understand how hard it would be to find a substitute. I mean, there are great singers and then there are miracles. Helen is the latter.

  4. I’m not familiar enough with musical theatre to be able to say, but I know that in opera, many performers who are over 65 years old (like Placido Domingo) regularly play the role of characters often a third of their age and even younger (i.e., the character is supposed to be 20 years old, but the singer playing that role might be 65 or older).

    When watching an opera, the audience just has to suspend their disbelief. It’s an accepted convention for opera, and opera-lovers have no trouble with it.

    Are musicals going the same way? I know that I wouldn’t have a problem imagining Helen Sjoholm was playing the 20 year old Kristina, even if Helen was still doing it at the age of 70. She would still be, for me, the young Kristina, no matter what her true age was.

    As long as her voice remains in good shape, why shouldn’t she continue to "be" Kristina until she’s 100 years old? I have no problem with that concept.

    Paul

  5. I keep my ear pretty close to the ground insofar as the Arts go in NYC and it’s quite clear that not one in in 1,000 of "Broadway Regulars" know about this piece. Certainly, by the first or second week of September when Benny, Bjorn , Helen and Russell have temporarily relocated to NYC, the media will begin listening.

    I will be interested given the great affection for Helen and Russell to see if and how Benny and Lars deal with what is certain to be a thunderous wall of "Entrance Applause". I don’t know how it is abroad but here in America, audiences generally applaud the first appearance on stage of a major star. It can disrupt the flow of a piece so at times the director;s job is to block those moments in a scene in such a way that does not happen or is only a minimal distraction.

    At any rate, I can see the perplexed look of critics wondering, "What the hell is going on? Who are these people? Renee Fleming and Domingo?"

    Don’t be surprised if critical reviews are "guarded". First, there are some
    critics who are intellectually and emotionally unwilling or unable to accept that Benny and Bjorn are still something of a curiosity incapable of writing "serious" music. The frivolity, despite the of success of "Mamma Mia" only amplified this bias. There are some shows, however, that are simply "Critic Proof". "Cats" was one; "The Phantom of the Opera", another. "Wicked" opened to mixed reviews.

    Here’s a sampling of excerpts from several "A-list" critics who can sometimes close a show or, despite their disregard for it’s popular appeal, bring a musical to the status of a legend:
    ___________________________

    BEN BRENTLEY of the NEW YORK TIMES says ? ‘Wicked’ does not, alas, speak hopefully for the future of the Broadway musical.? HOWARD KISSEL of NEW YORK DAILY NEWS says ?It’s such a ‘Wicked’ waste of talent.? LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY says "Overproduced, overblown, confusingly dark and laboriously ambitious jumble." FRANK SCHECK for THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER says, "Far too arch and sophisticated for children…lacks… sophistication and wit that would make it palatable for adults." The ASSOCIATED PRESS says "Lavish, ambitious and problematic."
    ___________________

    "Kristina" will probably suffer the same fate as "Mamma Mia!"

    Again, some gems from the media intellegentsia:

    "In terms of theatre, Mamma Mia!, which opened last night at the beautifully refurbished Winter Garden, has little to offer."

    "If you take apart ”Mamma, Mia!” ingredient by ingredient, you can only wince." (Again, Brantley from the NYT who clearly prefers homicidal barbers.)

    Given, "Kristina"’s musical sophistication, one can expect misguided references to Sibelius, Wagner, Rogers and Hammerstein, and, no doubt,
    words like "ambitious", "ponderous" and "glacial" (these from critics who will sit through the three weeks of the "Ring" cycle. O.K.: it’s only 15 hours but it feels like that because it’s sung in German.)

    Will "Kristina" ever play Bangkok and Nagoya?

    Who knows–but one thing is certain: B & B’s fans willmake that description, not some suit still waiting for the quintessential "A Little Night Music" to make it back to Broadway.

  6. I have been lurking on this site for a while, and I just wanted to thank you, Ice, for doing an excellent job. I adore Kristina, saw it in Stockholm when I was twelve, and I love the fact that the show is still alive in some form.

    Also, I wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading everybody’s comments. I especially love Glenn Korbel’s long and informative posts. Keep up the good work!

  7. Kristina is well known to people who are in the KNOW with Musical Theater. It’s not an ABBA thing, it’s not a MAMMA MIA thing but it’s rather a brilliant piece of musical theater. Anyone who is serious about musicals will have followed the creation and development of Kristina from Malmo to Minneapolis to Stockholm and now to Broadway.

  8. I’m sure both stars will get standing ovations from their respective fans. I am one of a group of eight of Russell’s fans coming from the UK and we’ve got seats for both nights. I know a lot of fans from the US are going too and a party is being arranged for the first night. There are also people coming from Australia and Japan.

    Having listened to Helen on YouTube, I can only think that their duets will be stunning, Russell’s voice has such depth and richness and she has such a pure tone, wow!

    I’m so please there will be a cast recording for all those who won’t be able to get to New York, at least they will have somethig to look forward to.

  9. You don’t have to convince me C.C. but your contention rests on the definition of "in the KNOW". I’m suggesting that if you talk to one of Broadway’s A-listers like Hugh Panaro, who has had the lead role in the POTO and he doesn’t know of it–or didn’t not very long ago– youcan be pretty sure, he’s in the know but didn’t know.

    As further proof of it’s stealthy path to New York, watch the video on the website. One of Broadway’s legendary set designers, Robin Wagner, who has about 100 productions to his credit can be seen listening to "the score" with Lars Rudolfsen and he is clearly hearing it for the first time.

    If there is any one who is a Broadway insider it’s Wagner and he was unfamiliar with it.

    While you and I know it is neither ABBA or "Mamma Mia", for many, B & B are still "ABBA" even if they adapted Mozart’s Requiem and at this moment "ABBA" for God knows how many people is "Mamma Mia".

    Late in March I met a man named Fernando who was a walking encyclopedia of ABBA. He had never herd of "Kristina". At the box office a guy in his 40’s, I’m guessing, in an ABBA t-shirt he purchased in the 80’s when the group had played Radio City (and who was first in line) had never heard the music nor did he know the story or the novels. He, too, was a very dedicated, longtime ABBA devotee.

    Right now in NYC there are only five or six productions on most theater-goers "must-see list: "Wicked", "Jersey Boys", "South Pacific", "Billy Elliot", and "West Side Story".

    "Kristina" isn’t even on the radar.

  10. Glenn Korbel,

    WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!

    Robin Wagner is NOT in the video at kristinathemusical.com, it’s Paul Gemignani, musical director. And even if Wagner was in the video, he couldn’t possibly be hearing Kristina for the first time because he DESIGNED Swedish production of the musical.

    Gosh, your ignorance is astonishing!

    Do you even know about workshop for Kristina held a couple of years ago in New York and attended, among others, by producers and critics?

    Do you know that Alice Ripley, the very recent Tony Award winner and star of Next to Normal, was at the time tentatively chosen to play the role of Ulrika in the future Broadway production? Do you know that she sings English version of Du Maste Finnas in her concerts and it was released on her CD?

    Kevin Odekirk (Les Miserables) was chosen to be Robert at the time and apparently will be reprising the role in September.

    Kristina was not seen by most New Yorkers but many theater people in New York DO KNOW about this musical.

  11. Glenn. You got me a little confused now…Robin Wagner designed the sets for the Original stage version of Kristina. He has been involved in the project for over 15 years. There is a clip of him listening to demos with Rudolfsson, but that clip is from the early 90:s. Also, Trevor Nunn, Elaine Paige, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sarah Brightman and more have praised the original Swedish production.

  12. According to Benny and Bjorn’s interview recently with Elaine Paige they said they hoped to stage Kristina in London as everything on Broadway is "too jolly and uplifting at present’.
    It’s sad that for American audiences the concert has already lost an hour and a few songs.Ok the stage show has alot of dialogue which can be cut for a concert version but to cut songs and make them shorter is sad.People sat for three hours to watch the show in Sweden.
    I really don’t see how ‘real’ ABBA fans can’t know this musical especially as it’s been mentioned in numerous books,fanzines,fan magazines etc for years plus 2 cd releases and all the singles.
    Those in europe got introduced to great singers like Helen and also Peter Joback via Kristina.

  13. "As further proof of it’s stealthy path to New York, watch the video on the website. One of Broadway’s legendary set designers, Robin Wagner, who has about 100 productions to his credit can be seen listening to "the score" with Lars Rudolfsen and he is clearly hearing it for the first time.

    If there is any one who is a Broadway insider it’s Wagner and he was unfamiliar with it."

    That’s hardly a proof since that video was filmed before Kristina premiered in Malmö. Wagner designed the sets for the world premiere production, so of course he was unfamiliar with the score before beginning to work on the set design – no one had heard the score before (the show hadn’t even premiered yet). As Robin Wagner was part of the original production team he was actually one of the first people to hear the score.

  14. "As further proof of it’s stealthy path to New
    York, watch the video on the website. One of
    Broadway’s legendary set designers, Robin
    Wagner, who has about 100 productions to his
    credit can be seen listening to "the score" with
    Lars Rudolfsen and he is clearly hearing it for
    the first time."

    But Robin Wagner was the Set Designer for
    Kristina in Sweden! (Way back in 1995)

    Watch… (in Swedish mostly):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VD51rknRU9U
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRYGpUKnXZw
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZDHBv4IcAo

  15. I’m an American (New Yorker/Stockholmer), understand Swedish, have spent much time over the years in Sweden, and was privileged and thrilled to have attended two performances, back around 1999 — it seems like eons ago — of the absolutely wondrous "Kristina Från Duvemåla". The whole experience just "lifted me to another level" that I can never forget: the heartfelt sensitivity and richness of the story, of the lyrics, of the music, and, above all, the amazingly beautiful voice, spiritual grace and uniquely openhearted personal sensitivity of a certain individual, whom I was also privileged to meet, the likes of whom comes along only once in a lifetime — Helen Sjöholm.

    As I told Helen at the time, I had an absolute sense that she would rise to major & continuing stardom and successes and a life filled with great satisfactions (and such a prediction couldn’t be wished on a nicer person!). So now comes the Carnegie Hall opportunity – a highly prestigious, attention-grabbing venue, in a town known for its bubbling-over-the-top cauldron of cultural offerings, subject to a maelstrom of theater-critics who may variably be of a mind to really appreciate and compliment great artistry and talent, or who may seek to aggrandize their own imagined standing by unceremoniously (and unfairly) denigrating — or even totally ignoring — what they can’t understand.

    So what do those possibilities potentially augur for the Carnegie Hall success of "Kristina"?

    I’ve seen it said here, in some comments, that NY theater-critics didn’t give much praise, or accord much respect, to the NY theater-run of "Mamma Mia". Maybe, maybe not — BUT the show has been running, successfully, for a LONG time now, and my understanding is that theatergoers LOVE it. That, to me, spells success.

    So it seems to me that if Björn and Benny are successful — as I expect they will be — in shaping the elements of the upcoming "Kristina" to tug at the audience’s hearts, and if Helen is successful — as I am also certain she will be — in being her normal glorious self (and thus in "being" Kristina), these Carnegie Hall performances will completely enrapture the audiences and can well be the opening for developing a new, ongoing, successful generation of a US-based Broadway-run for "Kristina Från Duvemåla" — if that’s what Björn and Benny might wish to do. But either way, I submit that this whole effort should be a joy for the audiences and, I believe, can also easily represent another great broadening of possibilities for Helen. I certainly hope so.

    My best wishes to Helen, Björn, Benny, for continuing to reach new satisfactions and new heights of sought-accomplishments.

  16. Glenn, you say Hugh Panaro has no knowledge of this, but I personally know that’s incorrect. He’s mentioned the show several times that I’ve talked to him, as far back as 2006. Clearly, he is at least familiar with it.

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