Kristina is up and running again!
February 29 2012, saw Kristina från Duvemåla (now officially credited to Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and director Lars Rudolfsson) finally emigrate beyond the shores of Sweden in theatrical, rather than concert form. Not to the hallowed pavements of Broadway or London’s West End but to a small theatre in Helsinki, Finland which features works in Swedish by Swedish creatives.
Outside the theatre, large searchlights illuminated the Helsinki night drawing attention to the première within. Benny’s sons Ludvig and Peter (the latter accompanied by Nanne Grönvall), Tommy Körberg, BAO member Göran Arnberg and Finnish singer Arja Saijonmaa mixed with the creme de la creme of Helsinki’s Swedish community, diplomats and invited dignitary friends of the theatre.
An hour before curtain up, the official ribbon cutting and opening of the theatre took place in the auditorium and then at 1830 we took our seats for the start of what was to be an illuminating trip both back and forward in time.
First things first: the Svenska Teatern Kristina experience is almost fundamentally unchanged from the production that went up in Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm in the 1990s. The show is around 15 minutes shorter, but the staging and set is identical.
The biggest change of course is the cast. Most notably the principals Maria Ylipää as Kristina, Robert Noack as Karl Oskar, Oskar Nilsson as Robert and Birthe Wingren in the role of Ulrika.
And what a fine job they carried out! Each of them did absolute justice to the roles, there is no question about that.
Maria Ylipää makes for an outstanding Kristina and whilst she cannot quite match Helen Sjöholm’s honeyed tones and breathtaking acting chops, boy does she come close. She is totally in charge of her crystal clear voice, perfect diction (albeit with quite a pronounced Finnish accent at times) and acts with both charm, sincerity and a likeableness that makes me want to return for more. An absolutely brilliant choice. I promise if you see it, you will love her!
Robert Noack (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Jake Gyllenhaal) is again, a fine singer. He doesn’t posess the brooding intensity which Anders Ekborg brought to the role of Karl Oskar but instead brings a more spirited and youthful side, which in some ways seemed to work slightly better. The chemistry between him and Maria Ylipää in the roles was spot on and really drew me into their relationship and their world.
The part of Robert as played by Oskar Nilsson was perhaps the most dramatically different portrayal in the new production. And again, I really liked it. It was Robert as we knew him from before but played with a lighter touch which actually served the show well. By ‘lighter touch’ I mean that for me he didn’t quite fill Peter Jöback’s shoes in terms of audience connection – especially during the reprise of Ut mot ett hav – but that meant that the show flowed more evenly on its way towards Du måste finnas and on to its heartbreaking finale.
Ulrika from Västergöl, one of the most vivid characters in Kristina was aptly played by Birthe Wingren. Not as huskily voiced as Åsa Bergh, Wingren still managed to bring to life the passion and complexity of the character and her interplay with the other cast members (particularly with daughter Elin as Robert starts to get interested in her was magnificent).
So, what were the changes? As I mentioned above, there were really not many but some that stand out are that the character of Fina-Kajsa doesn’t recount the history of lice in Löss. The train journey from New York to Stillwater takes place during the song Hemma which (if memory serves me correctly) used to be accompanied by a brief excerpt from Machopolska (from Benny’s November 1989 album). There is no ‘Red Indian’ character during Red Iron/Hjälp mig trösta, there are a couple of notes changed during Ett Herrans underverk and a few shorter musical interludes are spoken instead of sung through but honestly, take it from me, it is essentially the same glorious show as it has always been but in a more intimate setting (Svenska Teatern only holds around 600 people).
It has of course been a long time since anyone has had the opportunity to sit down in a theatre and watch the full theatrical production of Kristina från Duvemåla unfold before them and as someone who has always been a huge fan of the show, it felt absolutely wonderful to see this masterpiece come to life once more. It was like experiencing a flower that had been in a long hibernation and was now unfolding and sharing its beauty with the world once more. It was an almost overwhelming feeling. Something that I thought would never happen again in quite the same way…did! And is happening (until 21 December)!
Of course, in the meantime, there have been the two concert versions – the one in Sweden which was a direct musical copy of the original stage show and then the English concerts put on in New York and London and made available on CD. But to see and hear the show in Swedish again was incredibly special and to be blunt, far better than seeing the concert versions in English.
And you can rest assured that the Helsinki cast do the show absolute justice, paying homage to the way the show was originally conceived and at the same time breathing new life into it. The 24 piece orchestra under the direction of Hans Ek is absolutely top notch and special mention must also be paid to the acoustics in Svenska Teatern which are sensational.
Great credit must also go, of course, to Benny, Björn and Lars. The temptation must have been there at the beginning to make changes for change’s sake but thankfully they must have come to the conclusion very early on that ‘if it ain’t broken, why fix it?‘.
The opening night audience’s verdict? Long, rapturous applause, a standing ovation lasting nearly 10 minutes and the demanding of umpteen curtain calls!!
There is a small selection of merchandise available in the theatre. As well as the 16 favoriter CD at €12, programmes €5 and lyric books at €3, there are very nice quality T-Shirts (in both black and white) featuring the Kristina från Duvemåla stamp logo and lettering for €15 and mugs for €8.
Watch short excerpts from the Finnish production (requires up to date Quick Time viewer):