Filmed: January 2005
Location: The Cirkus, Stockholm, Sweden
Broadcast: Saturday 29th January 2005, c.09:20, TV4, Sweden
Release status: Unreleased
Shown in: Sweden
Benny and Björn were interviewed by Lasse Bengtsson about the arrival of the Swedish Mamma Mia!. Footage of the rehearsals was also shown.
Benny said (presumably rather tongue in cheek) in the interview that he wanted to direct a Mamma Mia! movie! "It's fun to try something new. Maybe we can have Lasse Hallström as an assisting director!". Little did we know back then that a movie would actually be made and released within 3½ years!.
Lasse Bengtsson had interviewed Agnetha for Nyhetsmorgon only a few weeks previously.
Lasse Bengtsson: Now we're going to talk about the successful musical Mamma Mia! which opens in exactly two weeks, February 12th, in Stockholm. It is currently the world's most successful musical. The musical which is based on ABBA's music, and has 22 of Björn and Benny's classic songs, has been out on a fantastic triumphal procession. The numbers are incredible. It's been played and still is being played in 85 cities. More than 20 million people has seen it so far and there are 20 000 people paying to see it every day. Now it's time for Cirkus in Stockholm. The photographer Micke Malm and I visited the rehearsals the other day.
(Footage of the rehearsals, the ensemble performing Mamma Mia in English)
LB: Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.
Benny Andersson: Hi.
LB: And you didn't believe in this at first.
BA: In this interview you mean?
LB: In Mamma Mia!.
BA: This is how it is. Björn thought that this was a great idea from the beginning. It was right in the middle of when we worked on Kristina från Duvemåla here at Cirkus. I was quite skeptical. A bit worried about ABBA's reputation. But Björn was as well. I thought what happens if this is a failure. But Björn was clearly enthusiastic. And I said if you think so, I'll gladly agree to it.
LB: But what were you worried about?
BA: I'm not work-shy. But partly it was because I thought was incredibly important to stay involved with Kristina från Duvemåla here at Cirkus for as long as it lasted. That was one part of it. The other reason was, like I said earlier, that I'm incredibly proud of what ABBA has achieved. So then I thought that if we stage a musical which isn't good in the West End, would it rub off on ABBA's reputation? So I was a bit reluctant. I really was.
Björn Ulvaeus: It was during the time that Kristina was playing here at Cirkus.
BA: Or maybe even when it was about to start playing. I really can't remember.
BU: And I thought it was a good idea. But just like Benny I was worried about the catalogue and reputation and everything so I was prepared. I saw it as an experiment and a challenge. Could we do this?
LB: But did you have to persuade Benny?
BU: No, not really.
BA: No. It's something else to know what such a thing means. For example, you have to accept that you have to do things like this that we've already done. I'm done with travelling and talking to 150 different radio stations, TV-stations, magazines and so on.
BU: Which is necessary if you want to reach out.
BA: And Björn said: "Well, I can probably do it".
BU: Because I believed in it. But even once we had agreed to it, I was ready to break off the process if we had felt, no this doesn't work, this isn't good for ABBA.
BA: For example after the workshop.
BU: Yes, exactly.
LB: Is it like this, Benny, that you felt you're actually done with ABBA? You want to move on to other things?
BA: Well yeah, you could say that. We haven't existed in about 28 years or whatever it might be. We haven't worked together, right?
BA: But a thousand things have happened since then. So I think.. As I said, I'm incredibly proud of having been a part of ABBA and what came out of it. But at the same time I have the desire to look forward and see what may come along next.
LB: But it seems as if you won't be able to let go of it completely, it goes on and on. You'll have to live with this now.
BA: Yes, I have to, but it's fair enough. That's what happens when something turns out very well. But it's more fun to be called Benny Andersson than ABBA-Benny. I think that's tough, ABBA- Björn and
(Björn and Lasse laugh)
BU: But I have to say that during Mamma Mia! I have almost forgotten, except during the interviews when they of course want to know everything. But otherwise, while working on the musical, the musical Mamma Mia! has taken over. I haven't been thinking of ABBA then. Instead they are those songs.
BA: I completely agree with you, I don't feel that way either, that I'm sitting here listening to old ABBA songs. But it's much thanks to Catherine Johnson and this is a play with music that she has put together and it's interesting to follow. It's a wholeness which our music is a part of.
(More footage of the ensemble performing Mamma Mia)
LB: When it's now coming in Swedish for the first time here at Cirkus in Stockholm, does it feel special?
BA: What is fun is what no one has ever heard before, our old songs, ABBA's songs, in Swedish in this production. I think that's fun. There's a great value in this production. And then that we're responsible for this production so we want everything to work, that everyone should be satisfied and happy. Everyone who's working, there is about 120 people working here every day.
LB: Why did you pick Niklas Strömstedt?
BU: Well, it was because I thought about it for a long time who would first of all, I didn't want to do it myself. It felt so difficult to work on my own songs from 25-30 years ago and to see what a bloody immature young rascal I was. Therefore I wanted someone who started the process.
BA: But he's good. He has done great things on his own. And he's a pop guy,
so that is good since the lyrics should still be that way even though they're
(Footage of a performance of Take A Chance On Me in Swedish)
Niklas Strömstedt (lyric translator): The scary thing is that these fantastic songs are a part of us, we grew up with them so they're inside us in an obvious way, we all have a relation to them. And to start working on them demands that you're very careful.
LB: Is a lot of the work to count syllables to make it exactly the way it's in the English lyrics?
NS: Yes, it has to be the exact number, the right number of syllables. You can't add an upbeat.
LB: Has Björn and Benny told you that also?
NS: Yes, they have. Don't do that, it can't be like that. But that makes it better that the melody is exactly like the original.
LB: What have you learned as a lyric composer by working on this?
NS: Well, mostly inspirational, since it's very, very fun to work with Björn. I have a desire for the words again.
LB: How active have you been in the process of hiring the actors?
BU: 100 %.
LB: Nina, who plays the daughter, why did you pick her? Describe her.
BA: She's here because she was the one who was best during the auditions. Incredibly charming, girlish. She's older than she looks.
BA: Very good. It was a stroke of luck, I think.
(More footage of the performance of Mamma Mia)
LB: Nina, do you understand what you've gotten yourself into?
Nina Lundseie: I'm beginning to understand a bit what it means. It gets more fun each and every day. It feels more and more fantastic the whole time, I have to say.
LB: How did you feel at first when they called?
NL: Shocked. Very shocked. I can't describe that feeling, it's like. I don't know what to say. I really can't describe that feeling. It's wonderful.
LB: Gunilla, you play the mom. Are you like mother and daughter to each other now?
Gunilla Backman: I'm so proud of Nina. It feels as if I'm her mother.
LB: Do you feel you can leave a mark on this production, this one in Stockholm?
GB: Absolutely. The director, who has directed several productions throughout the world, says that each production is unique. And I also think that singing the songs for the first time in Swedish is quite special.
NL: Sometimes I have to pinch my arm because you forget what you're a part of. It's incredibly fun the whole time. When you have rehearsed, you're in a dark room, you go there and do your job and then you go home and then I think: shit, I'm a part of this. I get to do this.
(More footage of the performance of Mamma Mia)
LB: Which country has the best production in your eyes?
BU: I think they're different depending on the acting tradition etc. It's hard to say.
BA: They are a bit different actually. The temperament varies. There's a risk that this is the one which will sound the best because there's very good discipline and talent in the ensemble. Even these English guys think so.
BU: It sounds really good.
LB: This is a gigantic investment, more than 100 people working daily. When does something like this start generating a profit?
BA: It depends on how many people come to see it.
LB: If it's sold out the whole time which is the way it looks?
BU: Well, about a year.
BA: Yes, it'll take a year. It will.
(Footage of the Swedish version of Take A Chance On Me)
Reuben Sallmander: I play Sam who had a passionate affair with Anna on this Greek island 21 years ago, and returns to this island for the first time in 21 years.
Bengt Bauler: Blixt, Harry Blixt, who also had a passionate affair with Anna 21 years ago and hasn't been here in 21 years. A bank employee from Stockholm.
Bill Hugg: Terje Barrman. I'm a traveler and I had a very passionate affair with Anna exactly 21 years ago.
RS: This musical is a shock of joy. I haven't seen it, but just to be a part of this, the whole output that this musical has, you have to go to the hospital if you can resist it.
(More footage of the Swedish version of Take A Chance On Me)
LB: This about so many people seeing it, that's not something you think about daily? That it may break the record as the biggest musical of all time?
BA: No. I'm fascinated that it works so well. What can I say?
BU: No, it's incredible. And I think what's left after this is Shanghai in China. That would be so much fun.
LB: Are there plans for China?
BU: Yes, the Japanese production company who staged it in Tokyo and Osaka, they're interested in staging it in Shanghai. And a European can't go there and produce something, that is completely impossible. But they apparently can so I think it would be fun to go to Shanghai for opening night.
BA: Well, you do that. (Björn and Benny laugh)
BU: I will!
LB: You won't?
BA: Maybe not. I wasn't in Korea and Japan, and not in Australia.
LB: You don't have the same desire as Björn to go to these events?
LB: If you look at this phenomenon, how do you explain that it's spreading like a wildfire around the world? Why does it do that? What's your own explanation as originators?
BA: Well, it's a combination. I usually respond like this. It would be quite fun if you could experience this performance as it is if you had never heard the music before. What would that be like? It would probably be quite a decent performance if the songs had been new. It's a silly thought, because it isn't that way. But I still think it would have worked and I think it works because it's well put together. I still always mention Catherine Johnson's name because it's her story. It's so unpretentious, it's fun, it's easy to follow. It's simply damn good. Our music and lyrics, they're good as well.
BU: Then I think that we came along at a time, about 6 years ago in London, the musicals were still a bit dark, you know "Phantom", "Miss Saigon", "Les Miserables". It was mostly things like that. So this one came along as a lighter, more fun thing you can go and watch and forget about yourself for a couple of hours.
BA: A glad tone on the gramophone.
LB: There's also been talk about you wanting to make a movie out of this. Are there any plans for it?
BU: Sooner or later.
LB: So there will be one?
BU: Yes. But we don't know when.
BA: No, but I'm going to direct.
LB: So Lasse Hallström won't?
BA: He can be the director's assistant.
LB: Because his name has been mentioned before.
BA: Nothing has been decided. But we know Lasse and he thinks it could be fun and we think he's fun, but.
BU: But you have decided that you're going to direct, I think we have at least decided that.
LB: That's quite the news. (laughter)
BU: He has never done it before so it would be very exciting.
BA: Yes, but it's fun to do something you don't know anything about. (laughter)
LB: I know that you never want to, you're not particularly interested in talking about money. But still, people wonder. Does Mamma Mia! the industry, the big project Mamma Mia! mean that you make more money than you ever did off ABBA? Can I ask that question?
BA: Yes, it's a strange question because this is a result of ABBA, so in a way it's still ABBA.
LB: But if you compare the record sales with the musical.
BU: It's hard to say. It's not something you think of and try to figure out.
BA: It's damn easy for everyone to always think of the gross amount. This many people have seen it, how much is a ticket, it's 500 kronor. Well, it adds up to this much. But it doesn't really work like that.
LB: Early last year the income was already 5 billion kronor in revenue.
BA: Exactly. But it's the same, how many albums have they sold and how much does one cost. It adds up to this much. I actually can't answer that. I can say that there's a lot of money coming in. That's for sure.
BU: I read somewhere that I had said that we make more on this than on ABBA and I've never said that.
LB: But isn't there some truth to it?
BU: I don't know.
BA: This is a result of ABBA. So it's a difficult thing to answer. I don't know how many records we have sold and how much money it is. I really don't know.
BU: And are you supposed to add inflation or. well, you see. It's impossible to say.
LB: But are you satisfied?
BA: Very much. It's quite fantastic.
BU: And when I see the audience, that's what's so much fun.
BA: I remember in 1982 when we actually said, now we're quitting with ABBA because we want to do something else, at least for a while, a few years. We were quite clear that ok, maybe one more year maybe, we had released the last album The Visitors. Well, there should be some money coming in, like in the aftermath, for a couple of years. That's what I thought, we all did. So what can I say? Just be thankful and grateful.
BU: And that maybe once in a while one of the songs would be played on the radio, every now and then. That's what we thought.
LB: What's your collaboration like nowadays? How closely do you work?
BU: It's on and off. Sometimes Benny calls and says: Now I want to be number 1 on Svensktoppen again so then (laughter)
BA: No, but if I need some lyrics for something, then I ask of course.
LB: Does it happen that you get a bit upset with each other or do you work exemplary together through all these years?
BU: Lately I don't think there's been anything special.
BA: We have never fought with each other.
BU: Sometimes we have different opinions but not enough to start fighting.
BA: Not yet. It has worked incredibly well. We've worked together since 1964.
BU: 1965 I think.
BA: That's not bad, that's 40 years.
LB: Finally, the mandatory question. Will ABBA ever reunite? (chuckles)
BU: Well. I don't know. We don't need the same girls for God's sake. We can get two new ones.
(More footage of the ensemble singing Mamma Mia)
LB: Björn and Benny. If you wonder why they sang in English in this variant, it's supposed to be in Swedish, it's because they rehearsed the final numbers both in Swedish and English. That's the explanation. But otherwise it's in Swedish. "Mamma Mia!" premieres in 2 weeks, on February 12th and then it'll play at Cirkus in Stockholm until January 8th, 2006 with a break this summer.
Thanks to Claes Davidsson for the translation
Thanks to Micke Andersson and Malin Westerberg for information and the pictures. Extra thanks also to Jan Bach, Alex Jones, Charles Pylad and special thanks to Claes Davidsson for the translation c/o ABBAMAIL (no longer online).
YouTube link c/o Steve Layton