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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Review: ‘Mamma Mia!’ ends season on high, fabulous note

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

Spokane Valley Summer Theatre is wrapping up this year’s season on a high note with the glittering enthusiasm of “Mamma Mia!” The story begins with Sophie (Emma Larson), the wide-eyed bride-to-be, mailing wedding invitations to her mother’s three former beaus, decidedly playing with fate in hopes to discover the identity of her biological father in time to be walked down the aisle.

Larson immediately ropes the audience into the tireless, euphoric ride that is this well-loved jukebox musical with her impeccable vocal talent and animated physical performance. She wastes no time getting the audience pumped for all the ABBA songs to come.

Her only confidants are her best friends and bridesmaids, Ali (Lysbeth Neel) and Lisa (Vanessa Cole). Neel, Cole and Larson bring undeniable charisma in “Honey, Honey,” which is polished by clever choreography flourishes from choreographers Angela Pierson and Joshua Spencer.

Set on the remote fictional Greek island of Kalokairi, Sophie’s wedding is set to take place at her mother’s labor of love, the Summer Night City Tervana. The set design done by Michael J. Muzatko (who also performs as Harry Bright) expertly uses structures that blend three-dimensional décor with beautifully painted detail.

His use of color, space and concept creates visual richness that treats the audience to effortless immersion. Its relationship with the choreography is symbiotic, with nearly every set piece used in the dance numbers. The production is fully realized with lighting designed by Logan Tiedt, coordinating luscious color with disco flashiness.

Dragging their luggage behind them, Tanya (Marnie Rorholm) and Rosie (Haliey Weber) trudge up to the tervana, Tanya cursing her stiletto heels the whole way. Longtime gal pals, they are reunited with Donna Sheridan (Andrea Olsen), Sophie’s spicy and stubborn single mother.

Olsen and Weber already have a lived-in chemistry from having played the lead roles together in “Always, Pasty Cline.” Adding Rorholm into the mix, the three convincingly craft the unique, quirky spirit of lifelong girlfriends. Tanya is a wealthy and thrice-divorced diva, and Rorholm plays her with expert comedy, rounding the character out with peppery charm.

Rosie is her down-to-earth counterpart, a single woman bumbling through life as a carefree cookbook author. Weber, taking on a character older than herself, does a fantastic job honing her physical performance to give Rosie her years, all the while maintaining the character’s zest.

Olsen is overwhelmingly stunning in this production. She carries all the strength and dazzle of the vivacious Donna with unfaltering vocal performance and energetic physicality. In the next number, “Money, Money, Money,” the production comes into full swing with the introduction of the chorus islanders in their flashy ’90s period costuming designed by Linay Robison. The energy is ramped up by the chorus’ sprightly presence, completing the picture of the vibrant Greek island.

Invitations having been accepted, Sophie’s three possible dads arrive at the tervana. Bright (Muzatko) is a British banker formerly known as “Head Banger.” Bill Austin (Doug Dawson) is an aloof and nomadic Australian writer. Sam Carmichael (Paul Villabrille) is an American architect who immediately recognizes the tervana as one of his old designs from 20 years ago.

Muzatko gives an impressive performance maintaining a perfectly nasal British accent throughout the show, painting a great picture of a city man who still fancies himself a rock star. Dawson is hilarious in his slouchy, light-hearted portrayal of Bill. Also tasked with an accent for the show, Dawson makes for a convincing Australian.

Because his character is so lax, Dawson had to refrain from the huge theatrics found in the rest of the show but uses physical nuance to round out Bill as his shy, somewhat-removed self. Villabrille gives Sam a classic poise, which he transforms into a soft earnestness as Sam rediscovers his love for Donna.

Casey Weeks, as Pepper, and Christopher Tamayo, as Eddie, give charming performances as the smirking, rambunctious taverna bartenders. Along with the rest of the chorus men, they effortlessly woo the audience. “Mamma Mia!” wouldn’t be complete without its exuberant girl power, and the women’s chorus brings it. They fill the stage with vivacious femininity and playful confidence, cultivating the overall essence of the show.

The music direction of David Brewster cannot go unmentioned. Leading the orchestra on keyboard, the play’s energy is carried on the sound waves of juicy, shredding guitars, chunky disco bass lines and snappy drum grooves. It completes the infectious collaborative spirit of this production, with every performer both musical and theatrical, giving it their all.

If you’ve never understood why every energetic theater kid fawns over “Mamma Mia!,” you’ll get it after this production. It’s inspiring to see the direction of Yvonne A.K. Johnson fleshed out with the obvious enthusiasm of her cast and crew. Don’t miss out on this show’s final performances, today at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. No matter how serious you take yourself going in, you’ll leave with a smile impossible to take off.