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You may have escaped the ’70s, but no one escapes ABBA
by Cortney Maddock
Feb 27, 2008 | 1624 views | 0 0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Courtesy photo - Gary Raffanelli (bottom center) leads an amazing ABBA cast for the ABBA cover show, ABBACADABRA.
Courtesy photo - Gary Raffanelli (bottom center) leads an amazing ABBA cast for the ABBA cover show, ABBACADABRA.
Well-rounded music man Gary Raffanelli isn’t ready to let the catchy tunes and skin-tight polyester suits of the 1970s Swedish pop group ABBA go out of style.

Stumbling into the hit tribute band Abbacadabra was purely serendipitous. In 2002, Raffanelli was pitching entertainment ideas to a casino when he was asked the dreaded question if that was all the ideas he had. A quick-thinking Raffanelli responded the best way he knew how: by remembering what was playing in his car on the way to the meeting.

Practically blindsided by his spontaneous word-blurt, Raffanelli has since become the executive producer and Benny in Abbacadabra.

“I was so excited about (the idea) that I started working on it the next day,” Raffanelli said. “It’s kind of taken over my life.”

Joined by three other performers and ABBA look-a-likes — Sandra Selby performing as Agnetha; Christine Shelton as Frida; and Fred Sampson as Bjorn — nearly three years of rehearsals led to the tribute band’s first show at the Eldorado on New Year’s Eve 2004. Since that performance, Abbacadabra has been in constant demand, including being the most popular group to perform regularly on the Royal Caribbean Cruise lines. There is only one way to explain the group’s popularity.

“ABBA music is contagious,” Raffanelli said. “ABBA has a cult following similar to the Rock Horror Picture Show.”

Trade in the Rocky Horror black fishnet stocking and bondage-style corsets for ABBA's tight white polyester jumpsuits and sequins, and cult members will flock to Abbacadabra for their amazingly perfected covers of classic ABBA hits like “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me” and “Waterloo.”

“We picked all of the hits to cover,” Raffanelli said. “We perform them just like the record. That was the hard part. (ABBA) were geniuses at putting together pop music.”

Raffanelli, who makes pianos for his company Slam Grand Pianos, said that the intricately produced ABBA pop songs were so difficult to decode and learn that sometimes he would call friends to help him break down and duplicate the songs. The hard work paid off.

“A lot of people think we are the originals,” Raffanelli said with glee of the mistaken identity.

He explained that audience members will often approach Abbacadabra members after shows and ask, “I know you were in the original group but who else was, too?”

Being good enough to fool the hardcore ABBA cult members, most of whom have been fans for years, has earned Abbacadabra a diverse fan base from older generations to younger ones.

“People can come to our show expecting to laugh, maybe cry, dance and sing along,” Raffanelli said. “We’ll make them forget their problems for an hour and a half.”

Abbacadabra will play at the Grand Sierra Resort March 5 through 9 for the group’s first hometown shows in years. The show starts at 8 p.m. and will conclude with a surprise ending, Raffanelli said. For more information on Abbacadabra, visit Tickets are $24.95 and can be purchased by calling 800-648-3568 or going online to

Raffanelli reassures that anyone who comes to the show will have a good time.

“Take a chance on us and I think you’ll be very surprised,” he said.

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