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Abbacadabra : The winner takes it all

Renee Silverman

For those growing up in the 1970s disco era it would have been hard to find anyone who didn’t know Abba and when the 2008 movie adaptation of the Broadway musical “Mama Mia” hit the theaters, a whole new generation of “Dancing Queens” were born. Abbacadabra, tribute to the Swedish pop group, took their turn under the disco ball Monday, March 31 at the Whisky A Go-Go on The World’s Greatest Tribute Bands hosted by Katie Daryl.

Abbacadabra, billed as “the ultimate ABBA tribute”, was created by producer / performer Gary Raffanelli (Benny) in 2002. As Gary tells it he was asked to produce a show for Harrahs in Reno, NV for their main room. He had three shows they loved. Just when he got to the door to leave they wanted to know if he had anything else. “And I had nothing else,” Gary said, “but I was listening to an Abba CD on the way so I bluffed the idea that I was putting together an Abba show.” Needless to say, they were ecstatic with the idea.

Upon the release of the movie “Mama Mia” Abbacadabra’s bookings doubled as the world took a whole new interest in the music. “We play for audiences that don’t speak English and little kids that don’t speak English but they’ll get up on stage and sing all the English words to all the songs,” Gary tells us. Abbacadabra does 15 cruises a year; they've toured Europe four times, played with the Buffalo, Nashville, Knoxville, and Iowa Symphonies to capacity crowds as large as 14,000 people.

A man of many hats, Gary’s been an entertainer his whole life. He started his first show band in 1973, opened the MGM Grand in Reno, NV staying there for 19-years and three years at the Excalibur, Las Vegas. Meanwhile in 1992, Gary started building custom grand pianos under the name Slam Grand Piano bringing in clients as illustrious as Kid Rock, Maroon 5, Brian Wilson, and Madonna. He also has a consulting company with the Dueling Piano Bars and builds the pianos for all their locations.

Lesley Green (Frida), originally from Denver but now living in Burbank, CA, has been with the group for six years. She is an accomplished singer and super fan of Abba. “I’m classically trained . . . a lot of musical theater and some pop and just sort of morphed into a lot of different things. I recorded a children’s album which got some attention from the Grammy’s and then landed upon Abbacadabra,” Lesley tells us. “I grew up with them (Abba). My dad loved them. I actually saw this band before I joined the band and I was so excited I called my dad and I’m holding the phone up. Right at the concert. And you know two years later I’m in the band.”

Susie Campbell (Agnetha) from Thunder Bay, Ontario, where she currently resides, started out a rocker. Susie says, “I was doing Guns ‘n Roses and Janis Joplin, singing on the road. I was in a lounge band for almost 10 years with Royal Caribbean . . . singing all kinds of music.” Susie confesses she’s a life-long Abba fan from way back. “I've been obsessed with Abba from the time I was little. If it was raining and we were out at camp, I’d make my friends sing into hair brushes,” she continues, “For me, it’s a role that I kind of just naturally embraced and I've been told I resemble Agnetha.”

Hard work and persistence paid off for Abbacadabra as they got their turn to perform LIVE to a national TV audience. “We've worked so hard together. It was kind of that, ah, that’s cool. You know, the prize at the end of the race,” Lesley said when asked what her reaction was to finding out they were going to perform on the World’s Greatest Tribute Bands. Susie said,” “Really excited. Proud. Excited. This is a wonderful opportunity.” As far as expectations, Gary says, “It’s a thrill to be here. Katie’s given us the opportunity. All it takes is one person really special to see us.”

Check out Abbacadabra website to see where they’re playing next and check out their Facebook page and Slam Grand Piano Co.


Gimme, Gimme, Gimme
Mamma Mia!
Money, Money, Money
Name Of The Game
Knowing Me, Knowing You
Take A Chance On Me
Does Your Mother Know
Voules Vous
Winner Takes It All
Super Trouper
Thank You For The Music
Dancing Queen

“The World’s Greatest Tribute Bands” on AXS.TV hosted and produced by Katie Daryl, provides a platform for otherwise unknown tribute bands to perform LIVE on national TV. Now in its third season bands perform live at the world-famous Whisky a Go-Go in West Hollywood, Monday at 8PM (PT). To see the show LIVE get your tickets at EVENTBRITE.

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