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

Review: ‘Home for the Holidays: A Big Band Christmas’ is an enchanting blast from the past

If you’re having a bit of trouble capturing that Christmas magic this year, Spokane Valley Summer Theatre’s “Home for the Holidays: A Big Band Christmas” is here to transport you to the glamour and romance of Christmas past.

The 16-piece band, consisting of brass, bass, percussion and conductor David Brewster on grand piano, is displayed onstage for this cabaret-style performance that hearkens back to the ballrooms of World War II-era America.

The program is hosted by the elegant Marnie Rorholm and the charmingly goofy Doug Dawson, who offers stark contrast to Rorholm’s incredible evening wear with his floppy elf hat and shoes.

Guiding you through each performance with charm and humor, these two emcees solidify the feeling of watching a live 1940s Christmas special that would be broadcast over the radio waves to snow-blanketed homes across the nation.

After an introduction of “Broadway Is Back” from the orchestra, vocalists Andrea Olsen and Michael Muzatko enter the stage with a performance of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

Donning a shimmering gold evening dress and a stately black tuxedo, the two usher the audience into a nostalgic Christmas world that allows the troublesome world outside to melt away.

The incredible performers and vocal talents they are, Olsen and Muzatko make their stunning efforts seem effortless. Their vibrant, confident energy taps into classic performance styles of the past and sets the perfect tone for the rest of the show.

Up next is Chuck Ethridge and Melody Heaton performing “When a Child Is Born,” offering a beautiful and mellow contrast to the pop tunes that came before. Their operatic vocal styles are an excellent pairing for each other and the song.

Darnelle Preston follows with a tune you may be unfamiliar with, “Chicken Today and Feathers Tomorrow!” which was in the 1979 “Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July,” and originally featured the distinctive voice of Ethel Merman.

Preston makes it obvious that she is a seasoned vocalist and performer, masterfully evoking Merman’s style and commanding the stage with grace and ease in her performance.

Bringing the show back to a cozy, intimate feel is Dakota Moses with a show-stopping performance of “Christmas Time Is Here.” Jennifer Tindall follows, bringing a theatrical style to “Winter Wonderland” that is wonderfully reminiscent of Dean Martin’s relaxed and cool version of the song.

Muzatko returns with the tranquil and sentimental “Christmas Is,” which offers an opportunity in this holiday production to turn the spotlight on the band with a fantastic saxophone solo.

Patti Mortier is up next with “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me,” sung by Rosemary Clooney in “White Christmas.” Mortier’s rich voice and regal performance is excellent for the song.

Brent Conrad and Callie Turner follow with a delightful and sweet performance of “You Make It Feel like Christmas.” For the last solo performance in the first act, Steven Mortier performs “White Christmas.” His classic stage presence and deep, resonant voice make for an enchanting performance.

The ensemble cast closes the first act with “We Need a Little Christmas.”

The second act has many favorites to follow, such as “Merry Christmas, Darling,” “Silver Bells” and “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” Of particular note is Samantha Schneider, who we don’t see until the second act but absolutely steals the show with an impeccable and powerful performance of “O’ Holy Night.”

The true magic of this show comes from its ability to make you feel transported to another time and place, at the same time it makes you feel at home in a community full of wonderful and passionate talent.

The emcees do a fantastic job of talking up each performer, telling the audience what they do in the arts around the region, including credits from past SVST shows. It taps into the true Christmas spirit by reminding us to appreciate the richness of our community.

Indulge in the joy of the season and catch SVST’s remaining performances Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. If you’re one to enjoy dressing up, don’t hesitate to join the cast in donning your best Christmas ensemble.