"I was booked for a week, got my Screen Actors Guild card and I was off to the races," he said.
Now, with "Mamma Mia!," Whelan is back in high school -- sort of. He said he listened to ABBA in those days.
"I'd say I was a fan," he said. "They were one of the eight-track tapes I had in my car, along with Supertramp, I think."
ABBA was a sensation, he said. Its music was fresh and new and catchy. That it survived the 1970s, he thought, wasn't really that big of a surprise. There are layers to the music.
"In high school, you don't necessarily think about the musical intricacies or the cool harmonies."
Still, even with all of the intricacies of the music, he never imagined anyone would turn it into a musical.
"But I have to say it's pretty thrilling."
Joining the touring production came out of the blue for Whelan. With only a couple weeks left on his contract for "The Little Mermaid," he happened across an item in the theater trade papers about an actor with "Mamma Mia!" going on medical leave. He called his agent and had him check on the opening.
"He asked me if I wanted him to get me an appointment for an audition."
Whelan told him, emphatically, yes.
Of course, getting back to New York for an audition while he was in the middle of a show in Utah wasn't easy, but he managed to cobble together a 30-hour window where he could get away.
"I flew to New York, spent the night, got up, went to the office and auditioned for 10 minutes then hopped in a cab and flew back to Las Vegas," he said. "From there, I drove three hours and made the curtain in Utah."
Management for "Mamma Mia!" called the next morning and offered him the job.
"I was pretty flattered," Whelan said. "They'd just had open calls in New York and L.A."
He feels pretty good to be where he is now, traveling again. He's having a great time with "Mamma Mia!," but of course, he's always looking toward the next gig.
Whelan said, "I joke and say that I spend 50 percent of my time obsessing over finding work and the other 50 percent obsessing over what I can do to never have to work again."
Reach Bill Lynch at ly...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.