Mamma Mia! The Party premieres in Stockholm

When ‘Nikos Taverna’ opened its doors for the Mamma Mia! The Party premiere in Stockholm, the four former ABBA members, Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid (Frida) Lyngstad, were all there to help kick off the event.

ABBA reunited at Mamma Mia! The Party in Stockholm

The evening got underway at 6pm, it was dark and minus 7 degrees outside but that didn’t stop ABBA fans from lining the pavement in the hope of seeing members of the Swedish supergroup arrive. Nearby, inside a specially erected (and heated!) marquee, the equally excited press jostled for space alongside the deep blue ‘Red Carpet’.

The first to arrive was Frida, accompanied by her long-term partner Henry Smith. Benny and his wife Mona followed shortly behind them. A rumour circulated that Agnetha had slipped in through another door, but at just after 7pm, she too made her entrance along the carpet. Björn’s arrival with wife Lena completed the set.

(L-R) Benny, Frida, Björn and Agnetha on the red carpet on the way into the event.

All four spent time posing for photos and answering questions from the waiting journalists before making their way into Gröna Lund’s recently converted Tyrol restaurant.

The premiere was also attended by Benny Andersson’s sons Peter and Ludvig, Björn and Agnetha’s son Christian and Björn’s daughters Emma and Anna. The star studded guest list included Görel Hanser, Micke B Tretow, Tommy Körberg, Helen Sjöholm, Gunilla Backman, Judy Cramer, Catherine Johnson, Matthias Hansson, Ingemarie Halling, Björn Borg, Alcazar

… and a handful of lucky fans.

Upon entering ‘Nikos’, the invited guests were greeted by Greek Gods bearing trays of Ouzo shots, before being shown to their tables.

Inside, the temperature was that of a Greek summer evening. Vines trailed the crumbling walls, fountains danced and the air was heavy with the scent of olive trees and jasmine. As the evening progressed, the light gradually faded as the sun went down and candles began to flicker.

A three course Mediterranean style meal, consisting of bread, dips, salads, platters of grilled meat and fish, potatoes and roasted vegetables, rounded off with a yoghurt and honey pannacotta was served to the tables.

While the guests enjoyed their food, the show took place around them. There is no stage, instead, the talented and vocally strong cast (led by Sisse Eriksson from the original Swedish production of Mamma Mia!), delivered their dialogue, sang and danced between the tables on the restaurant floor.

The actors often engaged with the guests and encouraged audience interaction. From the first bar of the first song everyone was singing and clapping along…Agnetha and Frida included! Sitting together on a table to one side of the room, the pair could clearly be seen holding hands and singing the harmonies to the ABBA tracks that they made famous.

Benny and Björn sat at neighbouring tables surrounded by family and close friends.

The show was split into three acts to allow for the service of food and drinks, but there was never a dull moment. During the breaks, the audience was entertained by performers in Cirque du Soleil style.

“As the four of us are here, Agnetha and I think we should do something” – Frida

Towards the end of the final act, ‘ABBA’ suddenly rose from their chairs, pushed their way through the crowded room and stepped up on to a small, raised, dance platform. The premiere audience went wild with whoops of delight and disbelief as the four stood together on stage smiling and waving at them.

Afterwards, Benny told icethesite that the, already iconic, moment had not been planned.

“It was entirely impromptu,” he said. “And it was the girls’ idea! Frida came over to me during the show and said: “As the four of us are here, Agnetha and I think we should do something”. I said “Yeah, why not, so we spoke to Björn and that is how it happened”.

Following the performance, tables were cleared and the restaurant transformed into a nightclub. Agnetha, Benny, Björn and Frida watched on from a first floor balcony as guests partied below.

Although the songs in Mamma Mia! The Party are all sung in English, the dialogue during Mamma Mia! The Party is currently only performed in Swedish. However, Björn has said that he is working on an English script translation and that he hopes to have an English language version of the show ready by Spring, in time for many international visitors to Stockholm for Eurovision 2016.

If the Stockholm production is a success, Mamma Mia! The Party may roll out to other cities around the world.

There’s more…

Björn Ulvaeus unveils ‘Mamma Mia! The Party’

Mamma Mia! has been seen by more than 55 million people around the world and translated into 16 different languages. Now, Björn Ulvaeus has unveiled plans to open a Mamma Mia! themed, interactive restaurant, on the Stockholm island of Djurgården.

Björn with a model of Nicos' Taverna - Photo:Claudio Bresciani
Björn with a model of ‘Nicos’ Taverna’  –  Photo: Claudio Bresciani

Mamma Mia! The Party, is scheduled to open at Restaurant Tyrol in Gröna Lund, Stockholm’s famous amusement park, just across the road from ABBA The Museum in January 2016. The existing restaurant, which opened in 1933, is to be completely rebuilt to resemble a Greek Taverna with a seating capacity for up to 450 guests.

At a press conference earlier this week, Björn spoke about the idea behind the venture:

“I have sat in theatres around the world ever since Mamma Mia! first opened and experienced that happy atmosphere in the audience when people stand up in the aisles and dance and sing.

“This is the next extension of that: transfer the mood to a restaurant, a Greek restaurant of course, and have a huge party.

“My vision is that this restaurant will be like a Mamma Mia! bubble, where people can just have a bloody good time. I can see the audience in front of me, how they’re laughing and singing along and having loads of fun. I want to re-create the same party spirit that the musical is known for,” Björn said.

“As soon as they walk through the doors, fans will be transported to the surroundings of an authentic Greek taverna, complete with olive trees, fountains, the scent of rosemary and a warm breeze from the Mediterranean Sea.

“It will be part restaurant, part stage show and part role play. Guests will be able to listen to music, eat Greek food, watch and take part in the show. They will be able to become the stars of their own personal version of Mamma Mia!,” he explained.

The stage will be set in a small restaurant, owned by a man called Nikos and his slightly younger Swedish wife, on the Greek island of Skopelos, where Mamma Mia! The Movie was filmed.

However, although the Greek island setting remains unchanged the plot will not follow the precise storyline of the stage show or movie. Instead, it will be semi-improvised from night to night, based on interactions with the audience.

And Björn promises that there will be plenty of room for improvisation and audience participation, but of course, only if the guests are up for it.

“If for example, I was to sit in the audience, the actors would see that ‘this one’, he doesn’t want to participate, but ‘that other guy’, he wants to get up and dance. People should feel safe,” he said.

“The song lyrics will be in English and the actors will use a mix of English and Swedish dialogue depending on the audience. If it’s mostly an international audience it will be in English, because Swedes speak such good English anyway,” he said.

Mamma Mia! The Party, is at this stage very much an experiment, but, if the project is successful, Björn sees no reason why it couldn’t also work in other cities around the world.

“If we can find the right place in London, Hamburg or wherever, then maybe eventually there will be a ‘Nicos’ Taverna’ there too,” he said. “It could turn into a very big party indeed!”.

Mamma Mia! The Party will premiere in Stockholm on 20 January 2016.

Tickets go on sale on 25 August 2015.

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‘ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions’ to be updated, revised and expanded

Renowned ABBA historian Carl Magnus Palm has announced plans to publish an updated, revised and expanded edition of his very first ABBA book, ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions.

The new edition is scheduled for release in 2016
The new edition is scheduled for release in 2016

Originally published in the autumn of 1994, in tandem with the Thank You For The Music box set, the groundbreaking book was the first to take a serious look at the group’s music. It included interviews with all four ABBA members, as well as the key people who worked with them in the recording studio and featured a foreword written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.

The revised version will incorporate new information that has come to light since the book was first issued along with previously unpublished or long-forgotten facts and stories that Palm has unearthed during his ongoing research into ABBA and their music.

More pertinently, Benny, Björn and Polar Music International have authorised him to listen, to more unreleased music than was available in the early 1990s.

“Back then everything was analogue, whereas today, all the tapes have been transferred to a digital format, allowing for much easier access to the unreleased recordings and alternate mixes of ABBA’s classic hits,” Palm explained.

The inclusion of the new material together with relevant illustrations means that the revised edition of ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions will end up being close to 400 pages long compared to the 128 pages of the original version.

Carl Magnus Palm
Carl Magnus Palm

“I’m basically re-writing the book from the ground up,” Palm said.

However, this time he has decided to publish the book himself and hopes to finance the project with the aid of a month-long crowd-funding campaign, scheduled to start on 28 January 2015.

“I have chosen to self-publish in order to maintain control. I do not want to be beholden to a publisher’s requirements regarding design, deadlines and so on. I hope to be able to release it towards the end of 2016, but the date may change because I want the book to be the best I can possibly make it – that is my priority. In other words, I want to make a book for the committed reader, rather than the casual browser,” he said.

On Sunday 11 January 2015, Carl Magnus Palm will be interviewed about the forthcoming publication by UK’s Radio Verulam and on Saturday 7 February he will talk about the project at an event in London organised by the Facebook group ABBAtalk.

Got a question for Carl Magnus Palm?

If you have your own question that you would like to pose to Carl Magnus Palm, now is your opportunity…

Simply submit your question to icethesite via e-mail before midnight GMT on 26 January 2015 and we will forward them all to Carl Magnus who will answer what he considers to be the best five. The selected questions and answers will be published here on icethesite.

Good luck!

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Björn pledges ABBA’s long-term support of UNICEF to the United Nations General Assembly

On Thursday 20 November, Björn Ulvaeus attended a live music gala held at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – the most widely ratified legal agreement to protect children’s rights.

Björn and Laleh at the UN General Assembly in New York
Björn and Laleh at the UN General Assembly in New York

During the high profile event, which included a performance by Yoko Ono and the launch of UNICEF’s ‘IMAGINE Project’, one of Sweden’s most popular young artists, Laleh, gave a unique rendition of ABBA’s Chiquitita. Joining her on stage afterwards, Björn made an impassioned speech, pledging ABBA’s long-term support to UNICEF (United Nations Childrens Fund) projects that specifically support the education, health and empowerment of girls.

In his speech, Björn explained that the collaboration between ABBA and UNICEF had begun 35 years ago, when in January 1979 ABBA performed Chiquitita at the ‘Music for UNICEF’ concert and donated 50% of the song’s royalties to UNICEF. He said that as a result, Chiquitita had so far raised almost $4 million for children’s education and vaccination projects worldwide.

Björn went on to say that when he originally wrote the lyrics to Chiquitita, he had imagined a young girl who had broken up with her boyfriend, being comforted by her best friend. But said that now the song had been in the service of UNICEF for so long he felt as though it had taken on new meaning:

'Chiquitita' has raised almost $4m since 1979
‘Chiquitita’ has raised almost $4m since 1979

“It’s as though the words are sung to all those sad, sad girls out there around the world today, who are suppressed one way or another and denied their rightful place in society. It’s as though the words say, “You deserve better. You deserve a chance. We want to help you. We want to give you education so that you can gain independence and stand up to those dark reactionary forces that want to tie you down. We want to empower you.” Björn said.

“When we do that, not only are we helping them, but I think it is perhaps, the single most important thing we can do to make the world a more peaceful place,” he continued.

“So that is why, from now on and into the future, 100% of the royalties to Chiquitita will go to help towards the promotion of rights for girls. Chiquitita means ‘little girl’ and we must never abandon the little girls,” Björn concluded.

You can watch a video of the full gala. Björn and Laleh’s appearance is at approximately 11 minutes.

Earlier in the week, ABBA The Museum and UNICEF Sweden unveiled a number of joint initiatives in support of the fundraising campaign, which they hope will help Chiquitita reach out to a new, younger audience.

Mattias Hansson, CEO of ABBA The Museum explained one of the projects:

“ABBA built the Polar Studio in Stockholm in 1978 and the first song to be recorded there was Chiquitita. Parts of that studio have now been reconstructed at the museum with many of the original objects and instruments from the time. Each year, until 2019 when the song celebrates its 40th anniversary, we will invite well-known artists to record their own versions of Chiquitita in the museum’s Polar Studio. All the royalties from these new versions of the song will also go to UNICEF,” he said.

The first to take up the challenge and record her interpretation of the ABBA ballad, as performed in New York, was Laleh.

Agnetha Fältskog said she had enjoyed listening to Laleh’s recording: “In her own personal way, the very talented Laleh has given us a completely new Chiquitita, in a voice that expresses so many nuances – happiness, sorrow and everything in between. It is a fantastically imaginative arrangement that just draws you in,” she said.

It is hoped 'Chiquitita' will reach a new global audience
It is hoped ‘Chiquitita’ will reach a new global audience

Another collaboration is the ‘Press Play To Give’ initiative which makes it easy to donate to UNICEF by simply playing Chiquitita on Spotify, iTunes or YouTube.

“Our aim is to make donating easy, while spreading the word about children’s rights. We encourage more people to listen and donate by pressing play,” said Véronique Lönnerblad, Executive Director of UNICEF Sweden.

To help bring ‘Press Play To Give’ to life, a new permanent side-exhibition about Chiquitita, through which visitors can donate, has been installed at ABBA The Museum.

“As a visitor, you can choose to sing Chiquitita in one of the song booths or watch the music video. Every time you choose Chiquitita at the museum you will be contributing to UNICEF,” explained Mattias Hansson.

“Our hope is that donating via music will become a natural part of everyday altruism all over the world,” he said.

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Benny at The Gothenburg Book Fair’s ‘Cirkeln’ seminar

Post-production work on RMV Film’s adaptation of the bestselling Swedish fantasy novel Cirkeln (The Circle) is nearing completion. Last weekend, Benny and Ludvig Andersson together with the movie’s director Levan Akin, producer Cecillia Mardell and Cirkeln’s authors Sara B Elfgren and Mats Strandberg, participated in a seminar about the project at Scandinavia’s largest literary festival, The Gothenburg Book Fair.

The 45 minute session, listed in the fair’s programme as, The work continues – When a book becomes a film, was led by Radio Sweden’s Lisa Bergström.

During the discussion Levan Akin said that he had initially been attracted to the novel by the girl’s stories rather than the magic and witchcraft. Benny agreed with him: “I think Cirkeln has strong roots in reality,” he said.

The 'Cirkeln' production team on stage at The Gothenburg Book Fair
The ‘Cirkeln’ production team on stage at The Gothenburg Book Fair

Now that the editing process is over and the film’s final cut ‘locked down’, Benny can start recording the soundtrack, but he said that composing the music had proved to be an exceptionally difficult task, as it was the first time in a long while that he had not had free reign to write whatever he wanted. There were times when Levan said, “That is great, but maybe you could do it a little more like this…” Benny recalled.

Sara B Elfgren who co-wrote the screenplay with Levan Akin, spoke of how they had started out with very different ideas for the script, but said that the two versions had gradually knitted together as the project progressed, continually changing and evolving even in the editing room.

She went on to say that although some of the book’s storylines had been altered, for example they have completely written out one of the novel’s central characters, school caretaker Nicolaus, she felt that the movie had remained true to the most important aspects, the girls and their relationships.

“Nicolaus is a significant character in the book, but when you make a film you have to be economical and we wanted to give the girls this space,” Sara explained.

Mats Strandberg agreed: “It’s about how to best tell the story in a way that works on film,” he said. “I am so incredibly impressed at how Sara and Levan have reached smart solutions to effective storytelling,” he praised.

“By moving, removing or adding scenes here or there, you can raise the finished picture by yet another notch, “ Mats explained.

Both Sara and Mats are very happy and proud of how the finished film has turned out. “It has been an incredibly exciting process and I see this as having been the world’s most luxurious course in filmmaking,” Mats said. ”Plus it’s fantastic to see a fantasy film where you do not get angry over sexist jokes!” he added.

Sara said that she believes Cirkeln represents something completely new within the genre of fantasy movies.

Book 2 of the 'Englesfors Trilogy'
Book 2 of the ‘Englesfors Trilogy’

So far, only a  30 second teaser-trailer has been released to the public, however, during the seminar another short clip of the film was unveiled, exclusively, to the book fair’s visitors.

“It was fun to see the first audience response to the film,” Mats said afterwards. “Now I can’t wait to see it when the special effects and music have been added and I am really looking forward to 18 February when the movie premieres!“

Cirkeln, the first book in the Englesfors Trilogy, is classified as teenage fantasy fiction and although the team hope that the Swedish Board of Film Censors will consider the movie suitable for viewing by anyone age eleven or over, Benny thinks that the film will appeal to all generations.

“It is not only aimed at young people but also at people of my age,” he said. “If Cirkeln is well received at the box-office, RMV Film will go on to produce the second and third books, Eld (Fire) and Nyckeln (The Key), too,” Benny confirmed.

The Cirkeln seminar was not the only ABBA related event at this year’s book fair. Ingmarie Halling, curator of ABBA The Museum and co-author of ABBA The Backstage Stories also took the stage at Gothenburg’s Swedish Conference and Congress Centre alongside Jan Gradvall and Bengt Wanselius, creators of ABBA The Official Photobook, for a discussion about the group’s image and the secret of the their success. You can  watch a video of ABBA – The Seminar in Swedish.

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‘The Story of ABBA’ a new book by Björn Ulvaeus to be published September 2014

sagan-om-abba-250x368On 6 April 2014, as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations, ABBA The Museum premiered the POP-saga, a short film written and narrated by Björn Ulvaeus, which tells the tale of two aspiring young singer-songwriters and their vocally talented girlfriends’ journey from Swedish folkparks to the formation of ABBA, their break-through at the Eurovision Song Contest, subsequent global success and the bands eventual split in 1982.

Now Fri Tanke, the Swedish publishing house part-owned by Björn, have announced that Sagan om ABBA (The Story of ABBA) will be produced as a 64 page hardback book, with illustrations by Ola Skogäng, in September 2014.

The story is aimed primarily at children and Björn has pledged to donate all royalties from sales to the Childrens Cancer Foundation, ‘Barncancerfonden’.

Björn’s first book, The Little White Piano, was originally published in 2010. A new edition, with illustrations by Maja Lindberg, was released earlier this year and is available in English, Swedish, German, Russian and Finnish language versions, exclusively from ABBA The Museum’s gift shop.

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Benny and Björn stage musical ‘reunion’ at 2014 Olivier Awards

It is 15 years since Mamma Mia! first premiered, in London’s West End, on 6 April 1999 and last night Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, together with the musical’s co-creators Judy Cramer (producer), Catherine Johnson (writer) and Phyllida Lloyd (director), celebrated the show’s milestone at the biggest event in the UK theatre calendar, The Olivier Awards.

During the prestigious ceremony, held at the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden, Benny and Björn presented the prize for the category ‘Best Musical’ which this year went to, The Book Of Mormon.

Then, to the delight of the 2000 invited guests, the duo reappeared on stage with their accordion and guitar, to lead the current London cast of Mamma Mia! in the evenings finale – a live performance of the ABBA classic, Thank You For The Music.

The star studded audience were also treated to cast performances of Dancing Queen and, of course, Mamma Mia!

Oliviers_Abba_2881758kOver 54 million people worldwide have now seen a production of Mamma Mia! and on the red carpet ahead of yesterday’s award ceremony, Benny and Björn were asked if they ever thought that the show would remain successful for so long?

“Absolutely not,” Björn replied, I thought it would maybe last a year. At a small theatre off the West End.”

“Or maybe a week,” said Benny, laughing.

“So it’s absolutely fantastic,” Björn continued.

And what is the secret to Mamma Mia!’s success? What does it have that other musicals don’t?

“The music. And the lyrics,” Benny responded without hesitation. “And the book. It is really thanks to Catherine Johnson’s script that it works,” he concluded.

Highlights from the award ceremony, including Benny and Björn’s performances, as well as performances from, The Book Of Mormon, Les Miserables, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Matilda The Musical, Phantom Of The Opera and Wicked, were broadcast on ITV and the programme is available to view again on ITV Player until 13 May 2014.

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Benny and Björn participate in 40th anniversary celebrations

"I have met my destiny!"
“I met my destiny!”

Well folks, can it really be 40, yes FORTY years ago now? Well, yes it can and the event didn’t go by without celebration!

Last weekend marked the 40th anniversary of ABBA’s international breakthrough at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton and both Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus participated in the celebrations with appearances in Stockholm and London.

On Sunday 6 April, ABBA The Museum hosted a day of activities culminating in the premiere performance of ABBA The Museum’s ‘The Choir’.

Hundreds of fans packed the museum’s courtyard to hear the specially formed 50 strong choir perform a selection of ABBA’s hits (with new arrangements by Göran Arnberg), including, Chiquitita, Dancing Queen and of course, Waterloo.

For most of the performance, Benny, together with Görel Hanser and Ingemarie Halling, watched from a balcony. However, to the delight of the crowd, as gold tickertape showered across the courtyard, he took the stage to accompany the choir for the finale – a very fitting and moving rendition of Thank You For The Music.

The entire show was streamed live by Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet.

The following day it was Björn and former bandmate Frida that wowed fans as they attended ABBA The Official International Party and launch of ABBA The Official Photobook, hosted by Universal Music and Max Ström Publishing, in London’s Tate Modern Gallery.

After posing for photos and autographs as they arrived, the pair appeared on stage in front of the 1000+ fans that had tickets to the party. They were greeted with rapturous applause and a spontaneous burst of ‘Happy Birthday dear ABBA’.

Björn said that he was really excited to be standing in front of so many fans 32 years after ABBA’s last performance. Frida agreed that it had been a very moving day: “I see you as our family, you are part of our lives,” she said. “We feel privileged. To celebrate tonight with you is pure happiness.”

The pair’s appearance was followed by the weekend’s second performance of the museum’s choir, who had travelled to London from Stockholm specially for the occasion. Afterwards there was an ABBA disco.

During the evening party-goers were able to purchase a hotdog named after the groups manager Stikkan (Stig) Anderson and were given party bags containing a limited edition Waterloo CD and a selection of postcards featuring the groups image.

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