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…

‘Kristina från Duvemåla’ opens in Stockholm as ‘Mamma Mia!’ closes on Broadway

On Saturday 12 September 2015, almost 20 years after Kristina från Duvemåla first premiered at Malmö’s Musikteater, the latest and last official production of the Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Lars Rudolfsson musical opened at Cirkus theatre on the Stockholm island of Djurgården.

Benny & Björn on stage at the last premiere of 'Kristina'
Benny, Björn and Lars on stage at the Stockholm premiere of ‘Kristina från Duvemåla’

We will not ourselves stage ‘Kristina’ again. We have done it six times now and we all feel that is enough – Benny Andersson.

The red-carpet event was attended by all three of the show’s creators accompanied by their wives, family members and a host of famous faces including Görel Hanser, set designer Robin Wagner, Benny’s son Peter and Nanne Grönvall, Peter Jöback, Anders Ekborg, Ingmarie Halling, Gunilla Backman, Anders Glenmark, Anders Hanser and Kristina Lugn.

Featuring Maria Ylipää as Kristina, Robert Noack as Karl Oskar, Oskar Nilsson as Robert and Birthe Wingren as Ulrika, the Cirkus staging remains virtually unchanged from the hugely successful 2013/14 Helsinki and 2014/15 Gothenburg productions.

The experience of the cast was evident and the consistently strong, polished performances delivered seamlessly throughout the four-hour show were rewarded by rapturous applause and standing ovations from the first-night audience. But it will come as no surprise, that the loudest cheer of the evening was, undoubtedly, for Benny and Björn as they joined the cast and production team on stage for a curtain call.

Kristina’ will play at Cirkus until Spring 2016. However, regardless of the demand for tickets, it must then close. Extending the run is not an option as the theatre is already booked for subsequent seasons.

And Benny has confirmed to icethesite that this will be the very last opportunity for audiences to see the musical as they envisage it:

“We will not ourselves stage ‘Kristina’ again,” he said. “We have done it six times now and we all feel that is enough.

“The scaled down production designed for the smaller theatre space in Helsinki was an experiment. We were not sure it would work, but its success proves that it is a feasible project for any theatre, so maybe it is now time for someone else to have a go and do it their way,” he told us.

Benny added that although they had discussed recording the current production, with a DVD release in mind, they had decided against the idea.

“We see each performance as a living thing that is best experienced in a live theatre environment,” he explained. “So if people really want to see it they will have to come to Cirkus before next summer!” he said.

Recent press articles have drawn a lot of comparisons between the problems faced by emigrants like Kristina and those caught up in the current refugee situation. But Benny himself is not convinced that this will help Kristina från Duvemåla appeal to a new or wider audience as the media has suggested.

“It is incredible timing and seems very appropriate that we have opened now, but I don’t know if it will alter our audience numbers,” he said. “However, it is true that we are dealing with many of the same issues, so if the resemblance helps someone to think about and understand the plight of such people, well, that can only be a good thing for everyone, I suppose,” he concluded.

Judy Cramer at the final performance of Mamma Mia! on Broadway - Photo:David Gorden
Judy Cramer and cast at the final performance of Mamma Mia! on Broadway – Photo: David Gorden

By coincidence, as the curtain rose for ‘Kristina’ in Stockholm last Saturday, so it fell on the Broadway production of Benny and Björn’s other musical Mamma Mia! Therefore, although Mamma Mia!’s producer Judy Cramer was at the Broadhurst Theatre for the final performance (which was described by U.S. theatre critics as more like a rock concert than a Broadway musical!), neither, Benny or Björn were able to be in New York due to the clash of dates.

“We did send a video message to the cast to say ‘Thank you!’ though, ” Benny said. “And under any other circumstance we wouldn’t have hesitated to attend. But when it comes to a choice between an opening night or a closing night? Well, no contest!” he declared.

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He’s A Man, He’s A Child/Han är en man, han är ett barn

The fantastic song Han är en man, han är ett barn, written for CHESS (på Svenska) the Swedish production of CHESS, is to be released soon in its English form He’s A Man, He’s A Child.

The song in Swedish is available on the album and DVD of CHESS (på Svenska) performed by Josefin Nilsson.

He’s A Man, He’s A Child (Andersson/Ulvaeus) is from CHESS In Concert (Benny Andersson, Tim Rice, Björn Ulvaeus) and performed by Reidun Sæther with the Arctic Philharmonic, orchestrated and conducted by Anders Eljas.

Reidun Sæther

The track will be available to download from places such as iTunes and Spotify soon.

Here is a preview:

Björn talks up Stockholm and ABBA The Museum in UK press article

Björn pictured at ABBA The Museum earlier this year
Björn pictured at ABBA The Museum earlier this year

The Guardian has Björn talking about the beauty of Stockholm and its many attractions in the publication’s The Way I See It series. He also mentions his favourite eateries and the ABBA outfit that makes him cry out in pain when he sees it.

He tells the media outlet: “Stockholm has everything New York or London has but without the people and the traffic. Because it is built on islands and surrounded by water, you get this enormous sense of freedom. People don’t bother me at all, so I can walk around without any problem.

“Naturally, I would recommend a visit to ABBA The Museum. When they told me that it should be in Stockholm, that’s when it dawned on me – it’s going to be in a very prominent place that I will “pass many times a year, with my children and grandchildren, and with friends. It had to be great, because I wouldn’t be able to escape it. That’s why I got involved. It’s a very hi-tech museum, but it also has warmth and humour. My favourite exhibit would have to be the homemade double bass from my first-ever group.

Part of the original costumes display at ABBA The Museum
Part of the original costumes display at ABBA The Museum

“Stockholm is the most beautiful capital in the world. Visitors should take one of the sightseeing boats and see it from the water. They should also visit the Vasa Museum. It’s absolutely magnificent – a large 17th-century ship housed within a museum.

“The Stockholm archipelago is unique, with tens of thousands of islands. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. I’ll often take my boat to Sandhamn, an island outside of Stockholm. There’s a restaurant there called Monrad’s where I like to have lunch. Actually, I’ll be going there soon with the new lady in my life. I’ve called her Dancing Queen and she’s a Princess 64 Flybridge yacht.

“There are lots of outfits in the museum. I’m proud to say that most of my ABBA costumes still fit me. I don’t have a favourite, but if I had to choose one it would be something from the later years. There’s a photo of me in a kind of Superman outfit from early on and I cry in pain every time I see it. It shows a level of bad taste unsurpassed by any other pop star.

“I love the city’s food hall markets. Two of the best are Östermalmshallen and Hötorgshallen. My favourite restaurant is at Hotel Skeppsholmen, but the food I couldn’t do without is sashimi. I go to a great Japanese restaurant in the centre called Seikoen. There’s also a marina called Bullandö, just outside Stockholm, where I go to eat the best ice-cream in Europe – it’s called Bullandö Glassfabrik.

“My favourite thing about Stockholm, and Sweden in general, is that it’s not overcrowded. There are only nine million of us Swedes, so we’re not overpopulated in the way many areas of Europe are.

“People in Stockholm are quicker to adapt to change than in the rest of the country. It has become a very creative city – for music, fashion and computer games. It is a lot more cosmopolitan than it used to be, but I wouldn’t want it to grow much bigger.

“When I get time off, I love to relax with my grandchildren – sailing, kayaking, reading, and watching movies and documentaries. I love to take them all on holiday with me.

“Benny comes to Stockholm regularly so I see him quite a bit, especially since we still work together from time to time. Agnetha and I have children and grandchildren together, so I see her at birthday parties and such. Frida comes to Stockholm from her home in Switzerland every now and then, and she’ll say hello.

“There are some great Swedish musicians around at the moment. I’ve been listening a lot to the Swedish band First Aid Kit. Their roots are in folk music and the same goes for me.

“I don’t think I’ll be watching Eurovision this weekend. I rarely watch it these days. Not because it was better in the old days (it wasn’t), but because there are too many countries in the competition. And as a songwriter, I’d be more interested in a contest where the emphasis was on the quality of the song.

“I love churches and there are a couple in the old city, such as the Storkyrkan, which I’d recommend visiting.

“Another special exhibit at the ABBA Museum is an award we were given which I had at home for years. It’s a hideously ugly German music award, a figurine in the form of Hiawatha called Silberne Otto. It was awarded to us by the German magazine Bravo and I kept it on my windowsill. Over time I grew rather fond of it and it was with a heavy heart that I gave it to the museum. Come to think of it, I miss my Silberne Otto.

“During the ABBA years, we did some television work in East Berlin. People there loved us but it was so depressing. I remember we were paid in whatever currency they had – East German marks or whatever – which you couldn’t change when you got to the west. Nobody would take it. I had one day to get rid of it, so I bought everyone in the bar a drink!

“I only book holidays in winter. Why? Try a cold, windy and damp November day in Stockholm and you’ll know why!”

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“Hjälp sökes” – A work in progress

A new song has been added to the Danish production and…there may even be an English version staged one day!

In addition to the eight original tracks, Hjælp søkes, the Danish version of Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Kristina Lugn and Lars Rudolfsson’s musical comedy Hjälp sökes, now contains an extra song I større perspektiv (In A Wider Perspective), a duet performed by brothers Axel and Engelbrekt.

Jesper Asholt & Jesper Lohmann perform "I det større perspektiv"  Photo-Robin Skjoldborg
Jesper Asholt & Jesper Lohmann perform “I større perspektiv” Photo-Robin Skjoldborg

Benny and Björn penned the composition specially for the Copenhagen production at the request of Østre Gasværk Teater’s director Pia-Jette Hansen.

In a recent press release, Pia-Jette explained: “Reviews and audience comments showed that there was a big difference in how the show was received in Sweden compared to Denmark.

“In Stockholm the audience was not phased at the lack of music in the first 30 minutes of the show. Whereas here in Copenhagen, people didn’t understand why it took more than half an hour before the first song was played when they had bought a ticket for a musical.

“I would be a poor theatre director, if I did not listen and reflect,” she said. “But the fact that I persuaded Benny and Björn to write a brand new song for us is wildly exciting!”

Benny at the premiere of "Hjælp søges"
Benny at the premiere of “Hjælp søges”

However, Benny has told icethesite that he wasn’t immediately convinced at the need for another song.

“I did originally like it the way it was,” he said. “But, having said that, we were all perfectly happy to supply Pia-Jette with what she asked for.

I større perspektiv is actually composed from a mixture of music already included in the performance, which Björn has put lyrics to,” he revealed.

Benny also confirmed that Björn is currently working in collaboration with Kristina Lugn to translate the musical’s dialogue and lyrics in to English.

So does that mean that they are planning to bring Help Wanted to the UK?

“We shall have to wait and see…” Benny teased.

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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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Benny and Björn at ‘Hjælp søges’ premiere in Copenhagen

Benny, Björn, Lars & Kristina with the cast of Hjælp Søges
Benny, Björn, Lars & Kristina join the cast of ‘Hjælp søges’ on set for the premiere’s finale

On Sunday 12 April, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Kristina Lugn and Lars Rudolfsson were in Copenhagen for the premiere of Hjælp søges, the Danish production of their 2013 Swedish hit musical comedy Hjälp sökes.

The production is being staged at Østre Gasværk Teater, a Victorian gasometer, which was converted in 1979 into a unique theatre space by Danish actor and theatre manager Morten Grunwald.

Björn and wife Lena on the red carpet
Björn and wife Lena on the red carpet

Outside the theatre, crowds of fans and members of the press jostled for position along the red carpet in anticipation of Benny and Björn’s arrival. They were not disappointed. Accompanied by their wives, Mona Nörklit and Lena Kallersjö, Benny and Björn appeared well ahead of the performance and spent a considerable time signing autographs and posing for photographs.

Once inside, the audience was instantly transported into the yard of a traditional Danish smallholding, complete with thatched roofed barns, picket fencing, trees, sawdust and all the smells of the farmyard!

The show’s format and running order remain unchanged from the Stockholm production. However, the original Swedish script and lyrics have been translated into Danish by author Pia Tafdrup and singer Anne Linnet.

Speaking before the premiere, Kristina Lugn told icethesite that she thought her words worked equally well in Danish as in Swedish and that therefore the dialogue had required only very minor changes.

“They have the same use of language and a similar sense of humour,” she explained. “Well, I hope they do anyway,” she said. “But maybe they don’t! I think we are about to find out,” she laughed.

Hjælp søges features a cast of just four actors, Jesper Asholt (Axel), Jesper Lohmann (Engelbrekt), Sara Viktoria (Hillevi) and animal trainer Suzanne Berdino (Moderen), who share the stage with seventeen animals, including Duglas the horse, two giant cows, pigs Flora and Kira, Kallerman the goat, three dogs, geese and chicken. They are supported by a five-piece orchestra who play on a platform built high above the set.

Sunday’s premiere went without a hitch and the cast were rewarded with a rapturous standing ovation. When Benny, Björn, Kristina and Lars joined the line up for the finale the audience whooped and cheered with delight.

In Sweden, Hjälp sökes received glowing reviews from the critics and so far, the Danish media are in agreement. One newspaper described the cast as “perfect” and the music as “charming”, while another awarded the production a 5/5 star rating.

Hjælp søges is scheduled to run at Østre Gasværk Teater until 7 June 2015.

Below is a gallery of photos from Copenhagen.

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Benny and Björn help launch the Stockholm Songwriting Camp

Björn Ulvaeus at the Songwriting Camp in Stockholm on 29 January
Björn Ulvaeus at the Songwriting Camp in Stockholm

Yesterday evening, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus were at ABBA The Museum to welcome songwriters and music producers from around the world to the opening of the first ever Stockholm Songwriting Camp.

The event has been organised by Auddly (the web-based royalty distribution and copyright management company in which Björn is a partner), SKAP (Swedish Society of Songwriters, Composers and Authors), ABBA The Museum and the Stockholm Business Region (which promotes the city as a business and tourist destination).

During his opening speech, Niclas Molinder, CEO of Auddly explained that he had first come up with the idea of a songwriting camp a couple of years ago.

“I wanted to arrange a camp in a way in which as a songwriter I would have appreciated,” he said. “Then one day, Björn Ulvaeus and I were sitting drinking coffee together and I told him about my idea. And Björn said, “Hey, lets do it!”

“ABBA were one of the first big Swedish musical exports, and are still a model for music creators the world over. For that reason, Stockholm Songwriting Camp is being held at ABBA The Museum,” he explained.

Björn said that it was a pure joy to be standing in a room full of songwriters. “I don’t think I have ever done that before!” he said.

“I find the new way of songwriting so intriguing,” Björn continued. “And it is my hope that you will have a fun three days and that you will work day and night.”

Björn has arranged for the adjacent Melody Hotel to be reserved for the participant’s exclusive use throughout the event.

He said: “I know from experience that it can be inspiring for creativity to sometimes break from the usual and go somewhere where you can devote every waking moment to writing, undisturbed.”

Björn Ulvaeus welcomes the songwriters to the camp
Björn Ulvaeus welcomes the songwriters to the camp

Each of the 45 participants, were selected by a committee, consisting of representatives from Auddly, SKAP and the British copyright organisation PRS for Music Foundation, for their varying musical backgrounds and knowledge.

“Stockholm Songwriting Camp, offers participants an opportunity to write music together in new groups, in an inspiring environment. And with such a good line up of musical talent we are confident that several new hits will be created over the weekend,” said Niclas Molinder.

“The Swedes’ love of music is huge and some of the world’s best songwriters come from here. Stockholm Songwriting Camp is an awesome opportunity to create music together with exciting people from different backgrounds. When so many geniuses come together under the same roof, it cannot be anything but a success,” said one of the participants, Jacqueline ‘Mapei’ Cummings.

However, Benny offered the songwriters this advice:

“Everyone is talking about writing hits,” he said. “But I would suggest that you try to write good songs and if you are lucky they might become hits.

“In the music industry, everything always begins and ends with a good song.”

If the weekend is successful, Björn said that he hopes the camp will become a regular feature on the Stockholm calendar.

Benny and Björn with Niclas Molinder welcoming attendees to the Stockholm Songwriting Camp
Benny and Björn with Niclas Molinder formally introducing the Stockholm Songwriting Camp

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