I stepped off the plane onto the tarmac
of the runway awash in chinchilla and mink. We had to step onto
the runway because the jetway had broken; it would not reach
the plane. Instead of having the passengers jump the fissure,
the crew brought the movable stairs for us to deplane.
So, I stepped off the plane onto the tarmac of the runway 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.
But I was pretending it was chinchilla and mink as I felt so
chic leaving the plane via a stairway. 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 what I was really here
for. I was in Minneapolis for the North American premiere of
the fully-orchestrated concert version of the new (to the English-speaking
world, anyway) Swedish musical by Benny Andersson and Bjorn 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
Minneapolis, as it turns out, is quite a pretty city. It is chock
full of different styles of architecture, all jumbled together
in cacophony of concrete 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, Broadway, folk and opera but never ABBA. The lead actors
were wonderful: the soaring Helen Sjoholm, the stalwart Anders
Ekborg, the adorable Peter Joback and the powerful, albeit very
pregnant, Esa Bergh. The most powerful numbers in my memory were
Sjoholm's paen to God's existence Du Maste Finnas (You Must
Exist) which recently entered the Swedish charts as a single
at number 1, Joback'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 Bjorn 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
Bjorn. 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.) Bjorn
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 Fran Duvemala 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 Bjorn 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 Bjorn 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, feeling much 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 Bjorn 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 Bjorn
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. 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. Three
of us went to Taylor Falls, a beautiful section of the state
which is in reality a tributary into the Mississippi River. 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.