In theatrical circles, this is quite a high profile review of Kristina at Carnegie Hall, appearing as it does in Playbill.
Review by Steven Suskin:
KRISTINA [Decca Broadway B0014228]
A sticker on the label of the new two-CD Kristina tells us this is “from the composers of ABBA and Mamma Mia!” Anyone expecting Kristina to sound just like “Dancing Queen,” however, is in for a somewhat unexpected listening session.
Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus followed their musical Chess — which opened successfully in London in 1986 but lasted a mere two months at the Imperial in 1988 — with the 1995 musical Kristina fran Duvemala. A big, major hit in Sweden. Based on Vilhelm Moberg’s 1949 novel “The Emigrants” and its three sequels, the story tells of a couple who emigrate from small-town Sweden to Minnesota in 1850.
As you might easily foresee, this is a tale of hardship, struggle, calamity and love. The novels are well-known in Sweden, and along the way the books were filmed in two parts (as “The Emigrants” in 1971 and “The New Land” in 1972, both starring Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann).
Kristina hasn’t had much of a life outside Sweden, but a dedicated set of partisans saw fit to bring a concert version to Carnegie Hall last September. That event — starring Helen Sjöholm as Kristina, Russell Watson as her husband Karl Oskar, and Louise Pitre (the original Mamma of Broadway’sMamma Mia!) as Ulrika, the “happy whore” — was recorded and has now been released by Decca Broadway.
Kristina at Carnegie Hall was at once interesting and unwieldy. Some of the music was quite good — with musical director Paul Gemignani doing an impressive job with the large cast and orchestra — but there was an awful lot of it.
The English-language lyrics, by Herbert Kretzmer, were not up to the music; Kretzmer’s work was helped, in a roundabout way, by the often indecipherable sound. The opening night audience included a large Swedish-American contingent, who seemed happily immersed in the thing (thanks to familiarity with the musical, the novels, or both).
For newcomers to the piece, though, there wasn’t much to hold onto despite strong performances from the principals (especially Ms. Sjöholm, who created the role in Sweden, and Kevin Odekirk as her brother-in-law).
The whole thing comes off measurably better on the CD. It is still a long and mostly severe piece, although the Messrs. Ulvaeus and Kretzmer do lighten things with a big production number about lice called “Lice.”
The Carnegie Hall mounting of Kristina was presumably intended as a first step toward a hoped-for Broadway mounting of this epic musical from the guys who wrote the songs for the blockbuster bonanza Mamma Mia! ButKristina, a great crowd pleaser in Sweden, seems unlikely to enthrall American audiences.