Kristina in London – “I Was There”

New York has had its opportunity to see and hear Kristina – now it’s London’s turn. The day has kicked off with a lengthy (for a Breakfast item) spot on the BBC featuring an interview with Benny and Björn and shots of the principals rehearsing, with lots of mentions on the voiceover of the fact that Kristina is the most succesful musical of all time in Sweden. Mamma Mia! was ‘only’ No.2! So, how was it for you?

80 Replies to “Kristina in London – “I Was There””

  1. I want to add my thanks to Helga and everyone at the fan Club for arranging the tickets. It was an amazing evening that I shall always remember.

    Helen, Russell, Kevin and Louise were on amazing form. All that and I got to sit in front of Benny and his family. Magical!

  2. Great night, great venue,thought Helen was excellent, very Julie Andrews with perfect diction.Russell was less clear but the music was powerfull & emotive bringing tears to the eyes.Found it odd that they changed the lyrics to songs that were already in English!

  3. It was an excellent evening.

    All the singers were brilliant but Kevin’s "Gold Can Turn To Sand" and Helen’s "You Have To Be There" were genuine show stoppers.

    Thank you, not only to all the performers, but to everyone involved. I’ve been waiting so long to see ‘Kristina’.

    Finally, thank you to Benny and Bjorn (and Herbert Kretzmer) for writing such a masterpiece.

  4. I loved it but then I am biased. My partner is better suited to passing comment as this was his first Kristina experience – all I had told him is that it?s quite sad and basically lots of them die which, with hindsight, I probably should not have done as each time someone dropped we laughed a little as he was trying to keep a running total which must have looked strange to anyone who noticed us.

    What surprised me though was just how much he loved it and was moved by it. In his opinion only the choral numbers seemed unnecessary and are probably more important in the stage production for moving the story along and scene changes.

    Seeing the libretto on the screen seemed strange at first but helped a great deal in understanding what was actually being sung as sometimes the desire to get all the lyrics in became an impossible battle. The lead vocal performances were much better than on the Carnegie Hall CD though agree with comments that the libretto left a little to be desired and was at times ?jumpy? e.g. there are just too many words in certain parts of "Lice" to be sung clearly.

    We had no sound problems in our seats though I noticed the orchestra getting out of sync a few times and the conductor having to slow them down on a few occasions which surprised me!

    Russell Watson sounds much better live and was the biggest surprise for me. His power and scale are not truly realised on CD. He seems to be enjoying the role more. Helens performance was electric to me and she deserved all the praise heaped on her in the other reviews. Shame she has said that this will probably be her last performance but then she has been doing it for pushing 15 year so it?s understandable. Louise and Kevin were new to me and as relative unknowns were outstanding and lent superbly to their roles.

    The atmosphere is probably the missing link to just listening to this and the warmth and anticipation from the audience was immense and swept you along. I was amazed in seeing other people?s reactions being so similar to my own and realising that B & B have really touched a nerve on a scale similar their achievements with ABBA. And I don?t care how sycophantic it may seem there is something to actually seeing B & B in the flesh.

    A night that will remain in my mind for many years and more pleasingly is another Kristina convert in the house is no bad thing.

  5. Just a short note for now i havnt slept yet,thanks Bjorn for your patience and for signing so many programmes,cds etc your wonderful.Thanks Benny for stopping even though you sneaked out the other way (he drove off with a huge irish type drum)

  6. Oh, I’ve just remembered a very minor disappointment about the concert. I was kinda hoping to spend too much money on Kristina souvenirs – mugs, teeshirts, posters, apple trees, stoves etc. But all I could get was a so-so (and rather expensive) programme.
    Clearly the ‘merchandisers have moved on’!

  7. I’m not one who attended but do hope for full length staged performances in English (and a revival in Swedish) both with DVDs.

    @Finnesse – in what ways is Chess deeper when Kristina is a life-to-death piece? Does the music not convey the epic and the tragedy for you? I commented before that I think the vocal melodies tend to be relatively lacklustre, and I agree with the Evening Standard reviewer that there is an element of portentousness here, as if B&B were a bit overawed by the subject and this inhibited inspiration. The story is a weak link in Chess but I agree not insoluble – the Swedish DVD comes very close.

  8. What an evening! We had the chance to see the Swedish production in Gothenburg in 1995 but were unable to go due to work commitments. So we waited 15 years to see the work performed – if only as a concert – and it was marvellous! That night I felt very proud being Swedish – the story is known by most Swedish people from the books of Moberg or the early 70’s films. Wonder how much more the English audience would have enjoyed the concert had they been familiar with Kristina’s apple tree and Arvid’s watch..they brought me to tears.
    Hope this will be performed on stage in London (or anywhere else in the world) and why not a Swedish revival?
    Once again B&B – thank you for the music.

    Anders & Brian – London England
    PS Nice meeting you Vera!

  9. OMG! What a night! That was by far the best I’ve seen (or mostly heard) in my life, and I’ve seen a lot! I sat in the grand tier and the sound was amazing! The scream that erupted when Björn and Benny came in was incredible and the same goes for when "Gold Can Turn To Sand" and "You Have To Be There" finished. It was all really emotional, goose bumbs all over! I just listened to the CD from Carnegie Hall and even though that to is absolutely fantastic I must say that the performance in Royal Albert Hall was even better! All the fingers crossed that they’ll take the whole musical to the West End, or back to Sweden in the near future!

  10. I thoroughly enjoyed the concert, thanks to excellent seats courtesy of the ABBA Fanclub, and of course to the wonderful performances and songs. Reading some of the comments about Russell, in my opinion he was excellent, I thought his voice was great and he gave a powerful and moving performance. Is fantastic in the role. It was a shame about the acoustics in the first half but it got better. I personally felt it wasn’t as electric as New York (but this could be because NYC was the first time in English, it was a beautifully warm autumn night, and it had been a mad rush from the airport after a very boozy flight) but it was a wonderful night, one I’ll never forget. Can’t wait to see it in Helsinki, I hope it’s still the same cast if it’s in English.

  11. I had such a wonderfull time on Wednesday evening at the Albert Hall. I originally attended the premiere of Kristina 15 years ago in Malmo, and this was truely a dream come true to be there and hear everything from a fresh perspective. I spoke to Helen and Russell after the show and they were just absolutely fantastic. I got a great picture with Helen. I met Benny & Bjorn also after the show. Benny was fantastic and it was brilliant singing along with him as he played the piano. He was a real sport, he just kept playing!!! We sang Money Money Money, Dancing Queen, Winner Takes it All, Thank You For The Music, I Know Him So Well. Helen sang Someone elses story and My Love My Life. What a night!

  12. Great evening, despite the sound problems – I could hardly make out what anyone was singing in the first half. As someone else has mentioned, I thought Helene was a little off form in the first half, though to be fair Helene off form is still better than most singers at their best.
    But as several people have said, the real problem with Kristina is the story. Because the books are so big, when the story is compressed into a musical, it becomes episodic, and the lurches from merry songs about lice and stoves to no less than three tragic deaths can be a bit jarring! If you think of most good musicals, very early on you get some kind of conflict set up, some kind of situation that has to be resolved, and the rest of the story works towards that, albeit with digressions and sub-plots along the way. Kristina doesn’t have that direction – it’s more a series of episodes in a family’s life.
    I think the reason why this wasn’t a problem in the original version is that Swedes know Moberg’s book so well that they can sort of fill in the gaps, and they already have an emotional connection with the characters and the story, whereas that’s not the case to a non-Swedish audience. My view is that Bjorn really needs to start again with the story, using Moberg’s fantastic characters and his plot as a base, but reshaping them into a more dramatic form. But I remember them saying that with the Swedish original, they were very keen to be true to the books (I seem to recall reading they even got the approval of Moberg’s descendants), so I don’t imagine major changes are likely. It’s a shame, because the music is so fabulous, it deserves a better vehicle that would attract more people to see it.

  13. ‘What a fantastic evening! One of the best nights of my life!!!
    My partner and i had seen Kristina premiere in Malmo 15 years ago, so we have lived with the music and come to love it very much.
    I have read the comments about the acoustics in the RAH and agree that they can be awful. When we saw Chess we had very good seats but the sound was terrible!
    We had seats in the upper circle this time and have to say that the sound and view was absolutely perfect. The show for us was truly fantastic and Helen was just won derful. The evening didn’t end there. We have a very dear friend that works at the RAH and she managed to arrange a meet and greet for us. She then dropped the bombshell that she had a secured an invite to the after show party for us.
    Well, I’m still pinching myself now. It was absolutely incredible!
    I cannot believe we got the chance to sing along with the cast of Kristina, while Benny played the piano. He played a lot of the Abba songs and we were just singing.
    I think my magic moment was when Helen sang ‘Someone else’s story’ she wanted everyone to sing with her but i just wanted to hear her, just wonderful, i cried.
    She let us have a photo taken with her and Benny also. Just a wonderful, wonderful night. I will never, ever forget it. Just truly magical

  14. I had such a wonderfull time on Wednesday evening at the Albert Hall. I originally attended the premiere of Kristina 15 years ago in Malmo, and this was truely a dream come true to be there and hear everything from a fresh perspective. I spoke to Helen and Russell after the show and they were just absolutely fantastic. I got a great picture with Helen. I met Benny & Bjorn also after the show. Benny was fantastic and it was brilliant singing along with him as he played the piano. He was a real sport, he just kept playing!!! We sang Money Money Money, Dancing Queen, Winner Takes it All, Thank You For The Music, I Know Him So Well. Helen sang Someone elses story and My Love My Life. What a night!

  15. Thanks for the link (above) Sapphie. It was great to hear, especially Frida commenting so calmly and matter of factly, about no reunion and why, from her point of view. A change from hearing B&B having to field this question.
    It somehow seemed more sincere coming from onme of the girls, if I can say that. I always feel, that of all of them , Frida would be least likely to resist a reunion.

    Lovely.

  16. We got there about 7:15pm and we headed straight for the merchandise shop. I snapped up a signed by B&B Kristina poster for £15 and a programme for £10. I figured the posters would be all sold out at the end of the show and I was right. So a good move.

    Our seats were in the third level up but directly opposite the stage. We both found the sound was poor up there. To be honest, the performance may as well still have been in Swedish – as neither of us could understand a word of the lyrics. So it was very hard to follow the story.

    In Act 2 during a quiet duet – an almighty crash of empty bottles being disposed of from the bar behind the circle. Apparently my face – opened mouthed – as this happened – was a picture. I complained to a member of staff afterwards about that (the bottles) and was told the Manager would be informed. It was really disgraceful. Imagine if they were recording the album!

    So to the good bits – I bet you thought it wasn’t coming. I loved the music. Seeing B&B taking their seats. Bjorn signalling for us all to sit down as we stood up as they cane into view. At the end, we stood up like most – to give a standing ovation to B&B’s masterpiece, as they took to the stage for curtain calls.

    Afterwards, we went back to the shop and I was pleased I got my poster beforehand – they were all gone.

    I didn’t manage to say Hi to Elaine Paige. After a chat with her at the Love Never Dies premiere last month – she asked if we were going to Kristina. We said yes and she said to come and say hello. Didn’t see Frida either. I don’t think she was there. At least I hope not now – as I didn’t see her. I bloody love that woman. I know I’ve moaned a lot – but I did actually have a fabulous evening. You had to be there!

  17. Posted by Nick Hardy, April 15, 2010 17:05:

    OK – I’ll be honest here. Kristina in English isn’t the most joyous time you can have in a theatre.

    While it clearly has some beautiful musical moments and overall is an accomplished composition, which we would expect, the book (story) is actually quite dull. It just takes too long for everything to happen.

    When I saw this in Sweden in 1999 I made lots of allowances as I didn’t understand almost any of it. I enjoyed some of the music as I was familiar with it but beyond that I thought not speaking Swedish was seriously hampering my enjoyment. I worried that I was being too critical but really felt that at over 4 hours it was, frankly, self-indulgent, the novel weakly interpreted for a stage show.

    Then I saw it in English in New York last September and I realised that the language wasn’t the issue (though there are some really terrible examples of awkward, clunky translations – in a lot of cases the ‘turns of phrase’ are just not what English speakers would use). I had serious doubts about its real suitability as digestable musical. It’s pace and lack of variety was really the problem – at that point I was certain we’d probably never see this hit the West End or Broadway as a proper musical without a serious rethink. As lovely as the music is for those who like that sort of thing (and that includes me) as an English language, modern musical it fails.

    The most visited productions in the West End at the moment are Hair, Billy Elliot, Priscilla, Chicago, Hairspray, We Will Rock You, Sister Act,Wicked, Mamma Mia, Oliver etc. – all colourful, bouncy, energetic, fun-filled affairs. Kristina is serious, fraught stuff that makes for bleak viewing. It’s like it’s 20 years out of date and doesn’t really reflect the zeitgeist of the theatre world.

    The reviews are now coming in and The Stage really does sum up what I feel about Kristina; I loved this comment: "Sjoholm brought large sections of the audience to its feet with her rendition of You Have to Be There, but that apart, you really didn?t have to be there at all." Very witty.

    I love the original recording and can pick and choose which disc or set of songs I listen to (I think Disc Two gets regularly forgotten, I’m afraid) but sitting in a theatre for over three hours watching Kristina will only appeal only to the most die-hard musical officionados or sweaty Benny fans.

    Nick, London

  18. I was and I am still here and will be as it seems at the moment! Im really glad the vulcan in iceland erupted AFTER the concert, but now I’m stuck here and my flight is cancelled and no train is going and I dont have a clue how to come home!

    I wonder if our dear Swedes are also stuck…..BUT – IT WAS WORTH IT!! The show was breathtaking, that keeps me smiling although the situation is making me nervous…

    All the best to all the other travellers!!!
    Vera

  19. Hi to Anders and Brian, thanks it was so nice to share that evening with you aswell!!! All the best!!

  20. Loved it! Loved it! Loved it! I so hope there are more performances to come, even if it remains in ‘Concert’ format…

    The new 2CD set is permanently on in my living room at the moment. I have Mr Ice himself to thank for introducing me to ‘Kristina’ and it has been a wonderful journey (and, fortunately, unlike hers, no choppy water or scurvy to contend with!)

  21. Not much to add as everyone has pretty much covered the show. I was at the stage entrance from about 4:30 and was lucky enough to meet and get photos/autographs of Bjorn, Helen and Kevin, who was particularly friendly.

    Benny and Bjorn arrived in separate cabs Bjorn in the vanguard about 5-10 mins ahead of Benny.
    Benny dived in very quickly saying he’d be out again later but I never saw him again apart from inside the Hall. Bjorn signed stuff for maybe half a dozen people and did a couple of photos.

    I don’t think anyone has mentioned that Tim Rice showed up briefly as well, he said he wasn’t staying. He was dressed for a black tie event, the ‘Hair’ premiere maybe?? Anyway he spoke to the people outside briefly, then went in, presumably to say hello to B&B.

    The only problem that I had with the sound was a kind of electronic overload on some of the vocals especially Helen’s and particularly bad during the song ‘Home’. I was sitting behind the mixing board and couldn’t see any red LED’s so that was a bit of a mystery. Did anyone else notice this?

    I had a very good view of B&B trying to creep into their seats at the start of the show. Again Benny first, the people around him cottoned on and stood up and started clapping as he sat down. The rest of the hall now alerted saw Bjorn coming down the aisle and started to rise in large numbers at which point Benny then stood up again and acknowledged what was by now a full standing ovation: before a note had been sung!

    I loved the show and understood almost all of it, having read the novels; had the Swedish discs complete with Micheal Cain’s brilliant translation for many years and listened to the Carnegie discs through twice. I suppose it’s easy enough to imagine how overwhelming it must have been for people coming to it completely cold. At the end of the first act I heard a guy in front of me say that it was ‘pleasant enough’.

    Anyway in short, a wonderful night and an experience that will always stay with me.

    Is this the end of the Kristina story in the UK?

    Will there be another chapter??

  22. What a wonderful night – will write my review as soon as I get home!

    Just wanted to say – Tony, I also noticed some strangeness in how Helen’s vocals sounded in the first act and electronic overload is actually the words I’d use..! I also thought Russell’s mic was a bit too loud in act one.

  23. What a fantastic experience to be part of the one night performance of Kristina. I was actually lucky enough to have been in New York last September for the Carnegie Hall concert, as well as having seen the stage version some years ago in Stockholm. I have loved the music ever since I bought the Swedish cd version on a trip to Sweden in 1996.

    It was a flying visit for me – catching the train from Leeds and returning on the last train – arriving back at 2.30am! A marathon visit – but one that I couldn?t miss.

    To compare the two performances, I would say that the acoustics were better in the Royal Albert Hall, although the whole experience of going to New York for the concert, and indeed the atmosphere in the Carnegie Hall, makes the American concert my favourite version. Helen Sjoholm is incredible as Kristina, but special mention must also go to Louise Pitre who?s diction was faultless again.

    My experience was also memorable due to the fact that, when heading for my seat, I almost bumped into Bjorn and Benny! Amazingly I didn?t notice them at first as I was so walking so intently towards my seat, but noticed the diminutive Gorel Hanser as they passed by. I quickly turned round to pursue them. Someone more observant than myself spotted them and had her photo taken with them, but when I asked if I could also have my picture taken, the bodyguard made excuses for them to attend an urgent function and ushered them away. Oh well, a missed opportunity but a nice experience.

    Lastly I?d like to say hello to Steve and Nick (hope I got your names right – you were in the Grand Tier – Box 33). We have kept bumping into each other – first at the BAO concert last summer, then Carnegie Hall and last Wednesday.

    Hope everyone else enjoyed the experience!

  24. the videos of Benny playing the piano after the concert are great, so glad i made it to the party. never in my wildest dreams did i think someone was going to say yes when i rang up and asked to meet Benny and Bjorn

  25. It was a beautiful experience to see the concert again.

    Highlights for me were We Open Up The Gateways, Summer Rose, In The Dead Of Darkness, Down To The Sea, Gold Can Turn To Sand, Where You Go I Go With You, Who’d Have Thought Such Men Existed and the stunning You Have To Be There.

    I even liked Lice and Queen Of The Prairie, as every show needs light relief. The beauty of Queen Of The Prairie to me is that it shows the Nilsson family being a happy one and makes the audience connect more with them when tragedies occur.

    I have to say that Helen’s performance in the First Act was not quite up to the standards of Carnergie Hall, but I think that was mostly down the the sound.

    They didn’t use radio microphones at Carnegie Hall (probably because it was being recorded) and the performers were more static, standing in front on stood-up microphones all night. But somehow I thought her performance was all the stronger because of it, although Helen was beyond magnificent in the Second Act at both venues.

    Russell’s fake Italian operatic diction was a little annoying in London "Eeeeen the deeeyad of deeyarkeness" but his passion for the songs seemed stronger here on his home turf.

    Kevin and Louise were just amazing, with Louise being positively overcome with emotion following Helen’s performance of You Have To Be There. You can also absolutely tell that Kevin adores the music. Gold and To The Sea were outstanding.

    The choir were stronger in London, as were the children. We Open Up The Gateways was simply breathtaking at the Albert Hall. I am not quite convinced the orchestrations worked so well though, and Paul’s "epileptic fits" whilst conducting did seem to make many of them speed up and lose time. How I wish it has been Anders Eljias conducting. The lyrics up on screen for the ensemble was a great idea, though.

    With the narrative not depicting any of Kristina’s dreams and toward the end not showing any reference to the Indians burning the crops with the Swedes fleeing for their lives as in the stage show, the poignancy of the story loses lots of its’ drama. However, the emotion was still here in spades.

    In New York they had originally planned a reprise of Summer Rose at the end of the concert instead of the more traditional instrumental ending of I Go With You. At the very last minute this had been changed back, but no real thought had gone into what would actually happen at this point on stage and I did feel that Helen and Russel were just left standing there awkwardly. Not in London.

    Probably the most subtle and beautiful part of the end in London, following I’ll Be Waiting There, was now the change in lighting to a warm glow moving from the pricipal performers to floodlight the rear of the stage and with the apple-tree picture disolving from black and white to colour. This highlighted that Kristina was finally at peace. It was a lovely touch.

    All in all it really was a wonderful concert with the exception of the audio in parts, some of the orchestrations and, I’m afraid, lots of the clunky lyrics ("I’m just being vein and jumpy") >>shudder<<.

    But Kristina does work as a concert, just nowhere near as magnificently as it does as a stage show. Paradoxically, CHESS is fantastic as a concert (a proper one not the concert-cum-stage-show at the Albert Hall two years ago) but is muddled and awkward as a theatre piece.

    Originally I felt the same as Bjorn about Kristina in the fact that London was probably far more "ready" for serious piece than Broadway. However, after seeing the London reviews I am not so sure. They were far more responsive and positive in New York and it had lots more coverage.

    But that may be because the bulk of London’s theatre-world’s main press (as well as all the dignatories) were across town at the Hair revival premiere – including Elaine Paige and Tim Rice who I was shocked to see didn’t attend Kristina.

    I think a full theatrical staging is on the way, but as with the 1984 concert performances

  26. Hi!

    Alex stated that "With the narrative not depicting any of Kristina’s dreams and toward the end not showing any reference to the Indians burning the crops with the Swedes fleeing for their lives as in the stage show, the poignancy of the story loses lots of its’ drama. However, the emotion was still here in spades."

    I think this is a major point! Obviously, the ending has been changed completely in this respect, perhaps because it would have been very much too pessimistc for American audiences?

    KR

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