Benny Andersson and Helen Sjöholm
You are preparing for Kristina to go international…
BA: We talked about it years ago because this is actually a story about how America was built.
Even if it is from a Swedish perspective. This is what happened in America, people coming from all over the world establishing a new life in a land that had no people.
What we did actually was a workshop with the theatre version [in 2006] and I was just walking by Carnegie Hall and I was thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we can present Kristina here – because the workshop was just done with a piano…the whole play as it should be but it’s very dry, you know, no ambience and no depth in the music – I thought it would be nice to do that, you know, we presented a theatre play and now we can present the music.
And also it’s sort of a thing because at the Winter Garden on Broadway, Mamma Mia! is playing in its 9th year or something and I was thinking it would be nice to present something else that we’ve been involved in, that I’ve done and that Björn has done and that is very Swedish, it leans on a Swedish tradition and it’s very different from Mamma Mia!. It’s much more serious and it’s very symphonic. So, I just felt it would be [good]. It’s a nice venue, Carnegie Hall.
Why are you putting up just two concerts?
Because it’s so expensive, that’s why. So we’re doing two.
Don’t tell me you’re worried about money!
BA: No, I’m not but it is expensive! It’s not like we’re making money on this, we’re really going to spend money to do this. I don’t mind – that’s one of the good things about having money – you can do things that you want to do even if you lose money. I don’t mind actually, it’s absolutely worth it. If we can sell out then it wouldn’t be that bad but it’s still going to cost us.
You’re also going to record a CD aren’t you, of the whole concert…it’s a project really?
BA: Actually one of the main reasons to do this is that if we do it, if we can record it, we will have Kristina in the English language, which will travel easier than if we just have one. We have the Swedish recording but it’s three and a half hours of music in Swedish that people don’t understand. There’s three and a half hours of music on the CDs and it’s a lot to ask people to go through this.
As you say, it’s not the same, the Swedish version and the way it was presented to a Swedish audience and the way you are preparing it to export it for Americans, for Broadway. So how are you preparing yourselves?
BA: Well this is only a concert. This is just playing the music, singing the songs in English. There’s no dialogue involved at all. We will have a narrator who will fill in on what’s going on during those, whatever it is, three hours and that’s it. It’s just a very straight-forward concert, nothing else. And then we’ll see what comes after that. I don’t know, maybe there will be an American theatre version of Kristina, I don’t know. I don’t really care about that at the moment. It feels good to do this [the concerts] right now because we can.
It is going to happen in September and you are already rehearsing. How are you going to prepare just practically for it?
BA: Well, there’s a lot of practical stuff to take care of. The conductor Paul Gemignani was over here two or three weeks ago. We just went through the score, we took out pieces that we’re not going to use and we added some stuff that we took out from the workshop that we did. We have to switch the Swedish lyrics for the English lyrics and we have to do all the parts for the orchestra. There is a lot of small stuff. Also, a lot of invitations the Swedish embassy, the Swedish consulate, the Swedish American society up in Minneapolis…there’s a lot of people to deal with who wish to go.
So, you’ve already received some sort of reaction to your decision that Kristina will actually be performed on Broadway?
BA: Yes but we want to sell it out. It’s a big hall, something like 2800 seats, so we’re hoping for the best. I think it’s going to be fine.
Does the incredible success that Mamma Mia! the film had, have a bearing on it, that you actually feel daring enough to do this?
BA: No…I don’t think so. You just see that hall and I know that we have this piece, this symphonic musical theatre piece Kristina and it would just feel wonderful to present it in this format in New York at the Carnegie Hall, knowing that Mamma Mia! is 3 or 4 blocks away. I don’t know, it’s a little ego thing I suppose, saying ‘I can do this too’ you know.
What about the cast?
BA: The translation is done by Björn and Herbert Kretzmer who is a lyricist and Englishman. He wrote the English lyrics for Les Miserables. Wonderful bloke. So, we had all the lyrics done for the workshop we did.
The first thing we did was ask Helen Sjöholm if she was available because we could not find a Kristina when we were there and we listened to a lot of women! And she said ‘Yes’ and so we knew we had her. She’s the only Swedish person apart from ourselves.
Helen: It’s a big job actually. It’s another language and it’s not as if you just try to learn something new from the beginning. In this case, you’ve got them in you, the Swedish lyrics and so it messes up. So, it’s a huge job just getting rid of the Swedish lyrics. But it’s going to be exciting and I think Björn has really got the right touch because I really love the lyrics in Swedish. It’s so poetic and it’s so down to earth and also so musical and he has also been able to translate that feeling into the new lyrics. It’s a big story about changing your life.
It’s really an archetypal story of being an immigrant isn’t it?
Helen: It is, it will be interesting to see how they like the story and how will they feel about the music. I don’t know what to expect.
Are you nervous?
Helen: Yes, of course I am. It feels a bit unreal still because it’s many years since I sang the music and now I’m going to do it again and that’s a thrill. And I’m going to do it in English and that’s a thrill…and I’m going to do it in…New York! That’s Wow! It’s going to be very exciting and nervous.
BA: Many of the cast are actually going to be from the workshop we did in New York and the choir is 24 people strong and I think half of them were in the workshop. So they know this, a little, if they can remember. We have ten days of rehearsals and so we’re going to be fine…I hope.
You sound confident about it?
BA: I do sound confident, don’t I? On the day it’s going to be a different story! I think I’ll be a little nervous. And I haven’t made up my mind whether I’m going to be in the orchestra, because if I’m in the orchestra then I’m not going to be nervous. On the other hand, I’d like to sit in the hall and listen to the whole thing. So, well, I haven’t made up my mind yet, we’ll see. It’s going to be an exciting night, both on the 23 and 24 of September, that’s for sure!
And Björn, where will he be?
BA: He’ll be right where I am I hope! (Laughs).
Also, we’re going to record this in English and that will take some work too. Lots of rigging to do and just to set up the whole thing and make sure it’s working. We’ll have a sound engineer from here and hopefully some help from the record company in New York as well.
What about the girls, Agnetha and Frida – the ladies in ABBA – are they going to be present there as well?
BA: Probably not but we will definitely invite them. But you know, we meet every now and then and we talk a little but I don’t know. I think it’s a little weird for them, after this whole Mamma Mia! thing because all of a sudden the songs are working but it’s not us, it’s not ABBA. It’s all the others now, it’s Meryl Streep singing and she was great but I don’t know what they (Agnetha and Frida) think about it.
One good thing about it is that the whole ABBA catalogue, since Mamma Mia! started ten years ago has been doing really well and probably wouldn’t have done so without Mamma Mia!. In that respect, financially it has been good for all of us. But maybe they would feel a little awkward about Mamma Mia! – it was them actually creating the sound of ABBA – it was basically what the women sounded like, you know, and the way that we recorded the whole thing but it’s basically their voices and all of a sudden it’s just the two guys involved in all this Mamma Mia! thing but that’s just the way it is, I suppose.
Below is the short film showing early discussions regarding Kristina’s emigration to America that first appeared on the official Kristina website, where you can also find out how to buy tickets for the Carngie Hall concerts.