If there's any doubt about the enduring love for the pop group ABBA, witness a recent trip to Guatemala by "Abbacadabra," the tribute show featuring musicians performing songs from the Swedish hitmakers.
"There were 50 billboards in Guatemala City," said show co-creator Gary Raffanelli. "There were 150 signs on buses. When we got off the plane, people recognized us. When we performed, most of the people in the audience knew every word. We couldn't even hear ourselves sing 'Mamma Mia!' because of all the voices flowing toward us."
In its eighth year, "Abbacadabra," which will be presented Saturday at Harrah's Tahoe, is more than just a showcase of ABBA cover tunes it's a meticulous facsimile of the group's music, look and vibe, down to the blond hair, beards, sequenced headbands and stage patter.
The show was started by two veteran entertainers on the Nevada scene, Raffanelli and Sandy Selby. The two began as Gary and Sandy and the Common Ground back in the late 1970s.
Their first Nevada date was in a small cabaret at the back of Fitzgerald's in Reno. They moved on, dropping the Common Ground from their name and appearing as only Gary and Sandy. They played in practically every cabaret in Nevada, building a faithful following.
They've taken their stage skills and applied them to "Abbacadabra," which has been performed 50 times so far this year. The cruise lines provide some steady dates, of course, but there are also appearances with symphonies, such as the most recent in the Quad Cities of Iowa-Illinois.
Now, there's talk of taping a PBS special, to be run during pledge drives across the nation.
"Abbacadabra" has a cast of nine, but, like the chart- topping group, there are four leads. Selby plays Agnetha Fältskog, Raffanelli plays Benny Andersson, Fred Sampson plays Björn Ulvaeus, and Lesley Green plays Anni-Frid "Frida" Lyngstad. (The first letters of their names inspired the acronym ABBA.)
The show tackles all the favorites from the group, which broke up in 1982. From the first strains of "Waterloo," it's clear that the audience is into the music and has come to dance. Those at the show may settle down a bit for the likes of "Fernando," but they find it impossible to stay seated during "Take a Chance on Me" or "Dancing Queen."
While it's surprising there aren't more ABBA imitators, a close listening to the music may suggest a reason why. It's no small feat to perform these tunes, as proved by the popular stage musical "Mamma Mia!"
In fact, Selby was against the show at first, but when she gave a careful listen to the albums, she realized the music was, as she says, "not bubble gum."
Nevertheless, those lush harmonies and catchy melodies are still plenty sweet and sticky. (Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; $27.50; 800-786-8208).
Boomtown, Reno Events Center: Great White, March 30. (800) 648-3790.
Carson Valley Inn Valley Ballroom: the Four Preps, next Friday-March 30. Cabaret Lounge: Chili Sauce, today-Saturday; Paul Covarelli, Sunday-Wednesday; Joe Buonanno, Sunday-Tuesday; Henhouse Prowlers, Wednesday; Decoy, Thursday-March 30. (775) 782-9711.
Eldorado, Reno Showroom: "Magique," Tuesdays-Sundays, through April 14; "Menopause the Musical," Tuesdays-Sundays, April 19-July 14. (800) 648-5966.
Harrah's Lake Tahoe South Shore Room: "Abbacadabra," Saturday; the Reflections of Michael, March 30. (800) 427-7247.
Harrah's Reno Sammy's Showroom: the Four Tenors, Thursdays-Sundays, through May 28. The Stage @ the Zone: Two Steps Down, today-Saturday; Apple Z, next Friday-March 30. (800) 427-7247.
Harveys, Lake Tahoe Bob Gleib, today-Sunday; Shayla Rivera, Wednesday-March 31 (800) 427-8397.
Horizon, Lake Tahoe Illusion Fusion starring Alex Ramon, Thursdays-Tuesdays. (775) 588-6211.
MontBleu Resort, Lake Tahoe MontBleu Theatre: Rob Schneider, Saturday. Blu Nightclub: Sage Francis, B. Dolan, today.(888) 829-7630.
Silver Legacy, Reno Grand Exposition Hall: Creedence Clearwater Revisited, May 24; Amy Schumer, May 25. (800) 687-8733.