Mamma Mia

People can’t seem to get enough ABBA, if the popularity of films, “Mamma Mia!” and “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” have been any indication. The recent films focused on all the music the group created to become a worldwide phenomenon.
Not only did these movies bring back memories to ABBA fans of more than 30 years, but a new generation of fans were created because of the energetic vibe the music ignites.
So it’s no wonder, “Abbacadabra — the ultimate ABBA tribute” has been gaining fans of its own from the very beginning. The music speaks for itself and when performed by a group with their attention to detail and every nuance front and center, no one ever leaves a show disappointed.
The show has been performed regularly at Harrah’s Laughlin for several years in the Fiesta Showroom, and it’s back by popular demand, this time for a 12-day run, giving audiences many chances to catch the show.
Laughlin entertainer staff members caught the show the last time it was in town and we couldn’t help but be impressed.
Filling seats in a showroom on a weekday can be a tough undertaking for any show. People aren’t really thinking about spending a Wednesday night going out somewhere to be entertained, preferring to sit at home in front of the TV. So when a large crowd showed up for Abbacadabra’s show on this particular Wednesday night, color us surprised.
Did they show up because it was opening night, or because they love ABBA music, or because they love this group’s take on ABBA music? The answer, quite simply, was yes to all of the above.
Many of the audience members had seen the show before and knew they would get yet another quality show, while others brought partners who had no idea why they were there or what they were about to see. But by the end of the night, however, everyone was on their feet, clapping and singing along to “Dancing Queen.”
We at the Laughlin entertainer often catch shows midweek because of deadlines and it is a true testament to a group’s talent if they can draw a crowd no matter what day of the week they happen to hit the stage, and the cast of Abbacadabra was ready, coming out, all musical guns poised for a powerfully good show filled with music, comedy, history, interaction and mostly pure fun.
In a blur of hit song after hit song, sparkly outfits, flowing ribbons and costumes, feather boas, and lighting effects, including glow sticks tossed out into the audience, Susie Campbell (as Agnetha) and Lesley Green (as Frida) nailed the vocals with precision. Adding to that rich ABBA “wall of sound” are accomplished musicians Gary Raffanelli (Benny) who also produces the show, Rich Hamelin (Bjorn); Haley Bond (back-up vocals); Kent Gochnour (musical director, drums); and Steve Sand on everything else (banjo, keys, guitar, horns, marimba, timpani, and glockenspiel).
Sand deserves a special shout-out because of all the elements the various instruments added more layers to the music and to the show. Together these musicians created this huge sound, as if there were more musicians on stage than just a handful of guys.
The girls performed choreographed dance moves all over the stage while singing music many crowd members only knew from the movie and musical “Mamma Mia!” It was cool they also performed other songs from the extensive catalogue many of us knew from listening to the radio and following ABBA’s career all those years ago.
Part of the comedy shtick was the ribbing between the Frida and Benny characters in reference to the ABBA couple that was once married to each other and then divorced. The show highlight for us also gives away the ending and it’s a tough decision to let the cat out of the bag for those who haven’t seen the show. However, when the people are chanting “Dancing Queen,” Dancing Queen,” Raffanelli misinterprets, “Oh, you guys want to hear some Queen!” Well, then that’s what they get and boy, oh, boy does that portion kick ass. Every one is harmonizing on “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and it is beautiful. It was a bit funny seeing the surprised looks on the faces of the people around us, but that was one of our favorite parts of the show.
But then everybody got to experience their favorite parts, singing along, waving glow sticks in the air and acting like groupies at the edge of the stage.
So, for a show to change the attitudes of guys who were dragged there by their wives, to the point they were clapping along and joining the people who were die-hard fans, it means this group knows how to take music that is already good and make it better. Mission accomplished.
A job well done deserves a second look, so if you haven’t checked out Abbacadabra — the Ultimate ABBA Tribute, here’s your chance. There isn’t a bad seat anywhere in the spacious Fiesta Showroom, so it’s easy to see everything from everywhere.
Before the show starts, there are large screens on either side of the stage, with vintage music and ABBA trivia questions to test brain power while waiting for people to be seated and the show to start.
This is a good opportunity to brush up on you knowledge of all things ABBA.
Raffenelli was right when he told us, “People sometimes forget that ABBA had so many hits. Almost every night after a show someone will tell me, ‘I had no idea all those songs were ABBA tunes. I recognized every single one.’ I hear that a lot.
“The show is all the integrity and energy of the original ABBA music with fun and laughs and audience interaction.”
While the music and the interaction appears seamless, creating the show was a huge undertaking for Raffanelli. It took 18 months to arrange 20 songs but the result makes for one of the best ABBA tributes in the world.
“It’s certainly the biggest in the United States,” he said.
One listen to any ABBA song tells you there is a lot going on here. Every musical note had to be transcribed and relearned by the band members. The result was a success.
“With us, the integrity of the music is number one,” Raffanelli explained. “It’s exactly like people remember on the record. A lot of other ABBA shows poke fun at the music and the outfits. We do not. Our show is like seeing ABBA for real — only with a lot more personality. The two girls were married to the two guys and they separated and divorced while touring. That friction plays a part in the show we do.”
ABBA has sold more than 400 million records worldwide making them the fourth best-selling popular music artists in the history of recorded music. To this day, they continue to sell between 2 million and 3 million albums a year, containing such hits as “Waterloo,” “Honey, Honey,” “Mama Mia,” “SOS,” “Fernando,” “Money, Money, Money,” “Knowing You Knowing Me,” and their signature chart-buster, “Dancing Queen.”
Raffanelli’s Abbacadabra seems to be mirroring the original group with their own growing list of achievements such as sold-out shows, TV appearances, and on one occasion, a private jet. The group also has been playing a variety of cruise ships, the largest in the ocean.
It is the job of this talented group of entertainers to bring the entire ABBA panoply to life. And it does that and a whole lot more.


Fiesta Showroom at Harrah’s

Wednesday-Sunday, March 13-24 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info