The musical itself, Kristina From Duvemåla, has been a massive success in Sweden since its premiere in October 1995. Since then, over a million people have seen the show, about a young girl who emigrated from Sweden to America in the mid-nineteenth century.
But Benny and Björn were unable to come to an agreement with the dramatist Carl-Johan Seth when they met in a preliminary hearing at Stockholm district court on Monday morning.
The row over the script of the musical has been ongoing for more than ten years. Carl-Johan Seth was brought into the project by the pair early on, and he considers that it was his work which the productions in Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm were based on.
Not true, say Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. They claim that nothing remains of his work which, they say, was unusable. Instead, the director and then head of the Malmö Musikteater, Lars Rudolfsson, together with the dramatist Jan Mark, wrote a completely new script six months before the premiere in Malmö in 1995.
The argument between Andersson and Ulvaeus on the one side and Seth on the other began years before the premiere but was still in evidence when they met in the living room-sized courtroom.
“We worked for two or three years without moving one metre forward with your script. When Rudolfsson came in everything went smoothly,” said Björn Ulvaeus, breaking in when the lawyers took a moment’s pause for breath.
Seth’s lawyer pointed out that the row could not have been as significant as Andersson and Ulvaeus claim, since as late as a month before the premiere they signed an agreement which confirmed that Seth was the scriptwriter. He also revealed that Seth had so far received five million kronor in payment for the performances.
But according to the other side, the agreement was meaningless since it referred to a script which was never used, and the money was paid out to create a good working atmosphere.
The quarrel will now go forward to a main hearing, which is not expected until late next year. It will be up to the court to compare the two manuscripts.
Despite the bad feeling surrounding the origins of the musical, preparations are underway for a run on Broadway.
In response to a question from reporters about whether the case would affect the timescale for a New York production, Benny Andersson was tersely frank.
“Dunno,” he said.