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Monday, October 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Emma Larson reunites with Spokane Valley Summer Theatre in ‘Mamma Mia!’

Austin Burrowes (Sky), being lifted, with Emma Larson (Sophie) and the ensemble men in Spokane Valley Summer Theatre’s production of “Mamma Mia!” (Richard Maguire)
Austin Burrowes (Sky), being lifted, with Emma Larson (Sophie) and the ensemble men in Spokane Valley Summer Theatre’s production of “Mamma Mia!” (Richard Maguire)

The story of “Mamma Mia!” is as classic as the ABBA songs its features.

In the musical, audiences are introduced to Sophie Sheridan (Emma Larson), who is set to marry Sky (Austin Burrowes). She wants to invite her father to the wedding, but there’s one major problem: She’s never known who he is.

After finding her mother Donna’s (Andrea Olsen) diaries, Sophie learns she has three possible fathers: Harry Bright (Michael Muzatko), Bill Austin (Doug Dawson) and Sam Carmichael (Paul Villabrille).

Without telling her mother, Sophie invites all three to her wedding on the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi.

The day before the ceremony, Donna greets the guests, including longtime best friends Tanya (Marnie Rorholm) and Rosie (Haliey Weber), with whom she used to perform as Donna and the Dynamos.

Donna is shocked, however, when Bright, Austin and Carmichael arrive. Though initially upset, old feelings eventually start to resurface.

“Mamma Mia!” opened in the West End in 1999, premiered in North America in 2000 and opened on Broadway in 2001.

It has since been produced in more than 50 countries and toured around North America for 15 years.

In 2008, “Mamma Mia!” was adapted into a film of the same name starring Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried. In 2018, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” a follow-up starring Lily James as a young Donna, was released.

Spokane Valley Summer Theatre’s production of “Mamma Mia!” opens Friday and runs through Aug. 18. The production is directed by Yvonne A.K. Johnson, with music directed by David Brewster.

For Larson, her role as Sophie marks not only a return to the theater she’s worked with since its inaugural season, but also to Spokane.

Larson and boyfriend Burrowes (Sky) have lived in New York for the last two years since graduating from Central Valley High School.

Burrowes is in his final year at the Stella Adler Conservatory, and Larson is working as a nanny to save money to attend Circle in the Square Theatre School, to which she has been accepted.

Larson has been a regular on regional stages since her first production, a performance of “Billy Goats Gruff: The Musical,” in first grade. She played the middle billy goat.

But Larson was truly bitten by the acting bug after attending Missoula Children’s Theatre Performing Arts Camp during elementary school.

During the two-week intensive camps, performers put on a themed show that included parts of Broadway shows.

“That was the moment I was like, ‘Oh, this is something that I enjoy and want to make money doing,’ ” Larson said.

In high school, Larson performed in “Little Shop of Horrors,” “The Outsiders,” “Once Upon a Mattress” and “Funny Girl.”

With Spokane Valley Summer Theatre, she’s been in “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” “Oliver!,” “Bring It On” and “Into the Woods.” She also was on the technical crew for “The Secret Garden.”

No matter the production, the people Larson gets to work with keep her coming back to the stage.

“The theater community is so accepting and so diverse – it’s somewhere where you can’t not feel accepted,” she said. “You find your niche, you find your people that you love. Theater is a place that especially, I think, outcasts find a place that they can fit in, which I just love.”

During her time with “Mamma Mia!,” Larson is enjoying the opportunity to work with Burrowes and reunite with Muzatko, her high school drama teacher.

But she’s also excited by the new-to-her faces in the cast.

“It’s proof that the theater is really growing and reaching farther,” she said.

“Mamma Mia!” was a perfect fit for Larson, who grew up listening to ABBA and watching the movie and was looking to perform in a show that was, above all else, going to be entertaining.

The musical, Larson believes, is a nice balance between upbeat, fun moments and songs and scenes that tug at your heartstrings.

One of her favorite parts in the show, for example, is the song “The Name of the Game,” a moment between Sophie and Bill, one of her potential fathers.

“It’s a fun moment in Act 1 to see this raw moment,” she said. “The musical is really upbeat and really happy, but there are those pockets of moments that are really raw and emotional that I really appreciate.”

That balance is what Larson believes has kept people coming back to ABBA’s music and “Mamma Mia!” time and time again.

“I think people can relate to this musical a lot,” she said. “Maybe not the whole thing and not the whole story, but I think there are moments that people go ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve experienced that in my life.’ People will always be able to take something away from this musical, which is, I think, beautiful.”

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