This past January, Las Vegas mourned the loss of “Mamma Mia!”, the musical phenomenon celebrating the music of Swedish pop super group ABBA, as the show finally faced its “Waterloo” after an unprecedented five year run. Now, just like magic, the music of ABBA returns to Vegas for an extraordinary weekend of performances by ABBACADABRA – the ultimate ABBA concert and the globally popular ABBA tribute show with 20 songs, creating 20 memories that will have the audience dancing in the aisles. It is set to make its debut in the Las Vegas Hilton Theater weekend of June 12-14.
Driven by the dynamic musical vision of group founder Gary Raffanelli-a dead ringer for ABBA’s Benny Andersson-ABBACADABRA has become an entertainment sensation in its own right since its debut at the Eldorado Resort and Casino in Reno on New Year’s Eve 2004. The ensemble, which features Fred Sampson (Bjorn), Christine Shelton (Frida) and Raffanelli’s longtime musical partner Sandra Selby (Agnetha), has been a smash throughout Northern Nevada, performing multiple times at Reno’s Silver Legacy & Grand Sierra Resorts and Lake Tahoe’s Caesars Palace and Harrah’s.
While ABBACADABRA (www.adbacadabra.com) has performed corporate shows in Las Vegas, the Hilton’s showroom marks the group’s first public appearance.
“A lot of shows that have included the music of ABBA in the past poke fun at their outfits and the music,” says Raffanelli, “but ours is unique because we believe the songs are great and we play and perform them with the integrity they deserve. We’re up there singing, dancing, laughing and having fun. The show has personality, we interact with each other and the backing band, and there is plenty of audience participation. We perform the show’s 21 songs mostly in the order in which they hit the charts, starting with ‘Waterloo.'”
ABBACADABRA is managed by Mirage Tribute Bands, a company formed by Jerry Greenberg and James Elliot. For Greenberg, working with the ABBA tribute group and bringing them to Las Vegas has a distinct full circle ring to it. Back in 1974, the 32-year-old President of Atlantic Records-still the youngest president of a record label in music industry history-took a chance and, in the midst of signing future superstar rock bands, inked the first U.S. deal for ABBA.
Under Greenberg’s guidance, ABBA scored many Billboard hits with “Waterloo,” “S.O.S.” and “Honey Honey” but didn’t explode until the massive popularity of disco in 1976 paved the way for ABBA’s worldwide breakthrough with “Dancing Queen.” Once “Dancing Queen” became hip to play in clubs, pop radio caught on and put ABBA on their road to superstardom.
“I know ABBA inside and out and when I first saw ABBACADABRA perform, I couldn’t believe it,” says Greenberg. “It was like watching the real deal. People got out of their seats and started dancing from the first number. Their performance inspired us not only to sign them but to start a new tribute band company as well.”
Elliot adds, “This is the closest thing you’ll get to seeing ABBA live! Close your eyes and you’ll truly believe it’s them. We’re really excited about bringing ABBA’s music back to Vegas, and we hope the weekend at the Hilton will be the start of their Vegas concert series.
ABBACADABRA draws on Raffanelli’s many years as an entertainer, impresario and live entertainment producer. He and Sandra Selby performed a Sonny and Cher-like headlining show nationwide and also recorded five albums. In the mid-90s, he began producing shows for casinos (including launching “Dueling Pianos” at Main Street Station in Vegas), Disney and Royal Caribbean.
Stumbling into the ABBACADABRA experience was purely serendipitous. In 2002, Raffanelli was pitching ideas to a casino when he was asked if he had any other ideas. He thought about the ABBA Gold tape he was listening to when he drove to the meeting and immediately responded (he lied!) that he already had an ABBA tribute show in the works. His bluff caught on like wildfire, and soon ABBA took over “Benny’s” life. After working on the music and distinct vocals for over two years and rehearsing the show for nine months, ABBACADABRA was ready to roll and the world was ready to “Take A Chance” on them.
“We picked all the hits to cover,” he says. “We perform them just like the original records. That was the hard part. ABBA was genius at putting together pop music. We got everything we could on the group and fine tuned the music and outfits down to the last minute detail.” Fans of “Benny” will be happy to realize that when he’s not entertaining or producing, he’s hard at work on his lucrative hobby of building lightweight grand pianos, which he started doing in 1992. As inventor and owner of Slam Grand Pianos, he now oversees two shops in Sparks, Nevada, and has built custom pianos for Alicia Keys, Madonna, Michael McDonald, Mariah Carey, Tom Petty and more.
After performing ABBACADABRA in so many different locations, Raffanelli is excited to finally have an opportunity to bring it to the Entertainment Capital of the World. He is also personally excited to perform in the same showroom where he saw Elvis perform (when the Hilton was the International Hotel) in 1971.
“People can come to the Hilton expecting to laugh, maybe cry, dance and sing along,” he says. “We’ll make them forget their problems for an hour and a half-and they can expect a big surprise ending!”
Tickets for ABBACADABRA go on sale Thursday, May 14 at 10 a.m. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday. Ticket prices are $19.95, $29.95, $39.95 and $49.95 for VIP seating with personal meet-and-greet and a gift bag featuring an autographed photo, CD and live performance DVD.
All ticket prices exclude tax and fees, and tickets can be purchased at the Las Vegas Hilton box office, online at www.lvhilton.com, www.vegas.com, www.ticketmaster.com, or by calling the box office at 702-732-5755 or 800-222-5361.