I stepped off the plane onto the tarmac awash in chinchilla and mink. Actually it was more like a black leather motorcycle jacket and a fleece skarf. I had brought it to shield myself from those notoriously cold and snowy winters in Minnesota (despite it being October, 1996). But I was pretending it was chinchilla and mink as I felt so chic leaving the plane via a staircase. Unfortunately when I reached the ground I realized it was about 70 degrees and I was sweating like a pig. So I forgot about chic and remembered why I was here. I was in Minneapolis for the North American premiere of the fully-orchestrated concert version of the new (to the English-speaking world) Swedish musical by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus - Kristina Fran Duvemala. For the Nordically-challenged American audience the title was shortened to Kristina! Americans seem to love exclamation points after their entertainment. That doesn't apply to me though; I'm not American. I'm a New Yorker!
Minneapolis, it turns out, is quite a pretty city. It is chock full of different architecture, all jumbled together in cacophony of style that just works. The fact that most of the buildings are also connected above the streets via enclosed walkways (for those notoriously cold and snowy winters in Minnesota) added to the charm.
After arriving at my hotel and unpacking, I walked downtown to meet up with a group of web ABBAnatics. We had planned to rendezvous at a pub called Brit's between 6 - 6:15 pm; the bar was just a hop, a skip and a jump to Orchestra Hall where Kristina! was to be performed. We had all only met over the Internet so there were no familiar faces when I got there. It was very crowded and everyone, it seemed, was circling the bar. I couldn't tell who was looking for fellow ABBAnatics and who was looking for a good time. So I started circling the bar and as I passed someone I'd whisper "Psssst," looking both ways. "ABBA?" It was through this stealthy fashion that I managed to ultimately connect with about fifteen other ABBAnatics. By 7:30 pm, we were ready to leave and converge inside the Orchestra Hall together.
The concert was beautiful. Although it was in Swedish, we were provided with an English synopsis and storyline. In addition, I had seen the 1973 film The Emigrants and had remembered a smidge of the plot line from that. The story revolves around Karl-Oskar Nillson, his wife Kristina, his brother Robert and townswoman/lady of the evening Ulrika. It concerns their lives in Sweden and their adventures during and after their ultimate immigration to Chisago Lakes, Minnesota in the United States. The music, as performed by The Chorus and Orchestra of the Plymouth Music Series and conducted by Philip Brunelle, was classical, pop, CHESS, folk and opera but never ABBA. The lead actors were wonderful: the soaring Helen Sjöholm, the stalwart Anders Ekborg, the adorable Peter Jöback and the powerful albeit very pregnant Åsa Bergh. The most powerful numbers in my memory were Sjöholm's paen to God's existence Du Maste Finnas (You Must Exist - which entered the Swedish charts as a single at number 1), Jöback's story of his immigration to California and back, Guldet Blev Till Sand (The Gold Has Turned to Sand) and Bergh's song to her daughter Aldrig (Never).
After the concert, a few of us were chatting outside when two men walked by and said, "You know, Benny and Björn are right around the corner loading the bus." The twelve of us couldn't have run any faster if there was a flame under our butts. My personal desire was to meet and get my picture with Benny and Björn. The others were more interested in autographs. I couldn't understand why; a picture is, after all, worth a thousand words.
Benny was a little harried (it had obviously been a long day and he rushed to the bus right after our picture together.) Björn was very nice staying for a bit of time, signing autographs, posing for photographs and answering questions about what was next for them. (The answer: Kristina! in English.) He was sincerely incredulous that some of us had travelled from the four corners of the United States to be there and was truly surprised when I gave him my business card and told him to look up my web page on the Internet. He laughed and couldn't believe there was an ABBA web page. (He should only know.)
The next day, after a leisurely brunch, twelve ABBAnatics set out to invade the small town of Lindstrom where the second performance of Kristina! was to be held in the Chisago Lakes High School Gym Auditorium. Before the matinee, we visited the statue of Karl and Kristina Oskar where a beautiful woman of about 80 years young (no joking!) preceded to take the same picture twelve times so everyone of us could have our own copy in our own camera. She was a joy! And the three octogenarian friends she kept waiting in the car couldn't stop laughing.
After the statue we went to find The Benny and Björn Trail. We had been told that a street was to be renamed for the two men. We found this street nowhere. We did find, though, the Karl Oskar House. Now, as Karl Oskar is a fictional character, you might ask, how does he have a house? Well, this is the house that Vilhelm Moberg used to visualize what Karl Oskar's house would have looked like. Moberg is the author of the series of novels, The Emigrants, Unto A Good land, The Settlers and The Last Letter Home, upon which Kristina Fran Duvemala is based.
The docent of this museum told us that the renaming had actually taken place the day before. We were a bit disappointed for having missed it but our spirits rose when we left the house, turned left and saw the newly-raised sign proclaiming - The Benny and Björn Trail! At least, we could get pictures by the sign.
As my picture was being taken I said, "This sign is loose. It comes out of the ground. I could take this home." I pulled the sign from the ground. I felt like Lucy Ricardo when she was stealing John Wayne's footprints from Grauman's Chinese Theatre. At that point someone yelled, "Here comes the bus! Put the sign back." It was, in fact, the Benny and Björn bus; the one they were using to drive around town all weekend! THE DOCENT WAS WRONG. The renaming was actually today. Right now. I shoved the sign back in the ground and casually started humming and looking at the beautiful yellow wildflowers on the side of the road. If they asked, I had my alibi. "The sign? Loose? I don't know but aren't these beautiful flowers."
All weekend long Swedish television was following Benny and Björn around filming a documentary about Kristina and the trip. Indeed, they were here too but I managed to slip between the legs of one of the cameramen to get a few shots of Benny and Bjorn cutting the red ribbon.
From the trail, we went to Chisago Lakes High School Gym Auditorium for performance number two. I don't know how the performers did it! The gymnasium had no air conditioning on the one day of the year Minnesota hit about 80 degrees (or so it felt like it). Personally, I had to leave the auditorium and watch and listen from outside. It was worth it to be able to breathe.
After the performance, like ABBA, the ABBAnatics split up. Paul, Laszlo and I went to Taylor Falls, a beautiful section of the state which is in reality a tributary into the Mississippi River. As the picture shows, our day ended with a beautiful sunset. (What do you want from a camera I got free with my subscription to TIME magazine?) The next day in the airport I read the review in the Minneapolis Star Tribune which included the following quotes:
I have seen the future of music [sic] theater and its name is 'Kristina'.
...an engaging, emotionally charged - and at times haunting - piece of work
...a seamless web of Swedish folk music, rock idioms and classical resonances
...mature and theaterwise.
I stepped onto the plane awash in chinchilla and mink.
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