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

Spokane Valley musician Isabella Mesenbrink part of Broadway touring production of ‘The Cher Show’

By Audrey Overstreet For The Spokesman-Review

When Spokane Valley musician Isabella Mesenbrink was asked to audition last summer for the role of assistant music director for the national touring production of Broadway’s “The Cher Show,” she had barely even heard of the so-called “Goddess of Pop.”

After all, 23-year-old Mesenbrink wasn’t even born when the now 77-year-old superstar was belting some of her biggest hits in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

“But I discovered that Cher’s music is for everybody, and spans so many generations,” Mesenbrink said. “And her personal story has so much heart.”

A veteran of the Spokane-CdA area’s theater scene, Mesenbrink has played roles in a variety of shows on several area stages, from Spokane Valley Summer Theatre’s “Sister Act” and “Big Band Christmas” to Stage Left Theater’s “Bare” and “Threepenny Opera.” The former North Idaho College student started playing the keyboards in the pit orchestra of “The Cher Show” just five months ago, becoming the crew’s youngest member as she embarked on her first national tour. Last fall, she had just a few weeks to learn Cher’s vast songbook in her new role as Assistant Music Director/Keys 2 for the tour’s 57-city, coast-to-coast run.

The talented singer and pianist, who spent her youth performing and playing keyboards all over the Spokane-CdA region, jumped at the chance to move to New York City to rehearse for the month of October . She put her boyfriend in charge of her two dogs and left their Spokane Valley home to stay in New York with a friend.

Mesenbrink immersed herself in all six decades of Cher’s musical catalog, which for her, was not as daunting as it sounds. She started playing piano at age 2, becoming a superb keyboard player and music director who can sight-read. SVST veteran, Andrea Olsen, recalled first noticing Mesenbrink when she was newly graduated from Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, and had returned to music direct a show at her high school alma mater.

“I remember being super impressed by the musical direction and the pianist (which turned out to be Izzy),” Olsen said. “I noticed she had done many of the same things musically that I had done in my production (of the same show), so I made sure to find out who she was before I left that night.”

Olsen put the young Mesenbrink to the test when she hired her last-minute to music direct Central Valley High School’s “A Little Mermaid.”

“She stepped in on the final dress rehearsal the next evening and sight-read the part … and rocked it!” Olsen said.

In addition to her talent on the keys, Mesenbrink is an accomplished singer, who has studied voice for years.

Local fans of the now defunct Inland Northwest Opera may recall seeing her on tour with the INO’s Opera Truck.

“(Mesenbrink) understands the singer’s need to take a breath, or move the tempo forward on a long note, and she knows when to support the singer on a trickier passage, or similarly understands to get out of the singer’s way so they can improvise on another passage,” Olsen said. “This makes performing with her easy and more collaborative, which you don’t always find with every pianist.”

Landing a music directing position on a national tour as a woman, and at such a young age, is an achievement Mesenbrink doesn’t take lightly. She was asked to audition for “The Cher Show” shortly after posting her resume on Maestra, a site dedicated toward women looking to work in the music industry.

“I think it’s important, especially with a show like this that is focused around this strong, powerful woman Cher, that we’re also bringing, you know, powerful new women into the workforce,” Mesenbrink said. “Sometimes my age can be a hindrance because I am very young, and I do look very young, but I think, (the show’s management) was also probably on the hunt for someone, you know, young and ambitious as well, so it actually worked in my favor.”

The head Music Director is Eddie Carney, who plays the main keys, while Mesenbrink plays the Keys 2 position. She is responsible for a lot of the “extra” sounds heard in the show.

“So that can mean strings, accordion, some of the piano stuff, harp, support, cello, you name it, all of those like extra little sounds and things,” Mesenbrink said. “One of my favorite moments in the show is actually a slide whistle you hear (when the Sonny and Cher characters sing) ‘The Beat Goes On.’ “

When “The Cher Show” takes to the First Interstate Center for the Arts stage on Saturday and Sunday, Mesenbrink hopes to see family and friends in attendance. The jukebox musical takes audiences through three turbulent phases in Cher’s life, played by three singers who depict the pop star in all her costumed and vocal glories.

Adding to Mesenbrink’s personal excitement, the Spokane show will mark the second time she has substituted as head conductor of the national touring show.

Mesenbrink credits mentors such as Olsen and SVST Executive Director Yvonne A. K. Johnson for giving her valuable opportunities to foster her talents and expand her professional horizons. Mesenbrink has been involved in several past SVST shows, including last summer’s “Escape to Margaritaville” and as music director of its annual “Rising Stars.”

“Izzy’s SVST family will be there on Sunday, May 19, at 1 p.m. to support our ‘hometown girl’ and ‘The Cher Show,’” Johnson said.

While Johnson is happy to see Mesenbrink shine on the national stage, she is hoping that SVST’s construction of the new Idaho Central Spokane Valley Performing Arts Center will have a boomerang effect on local stars like Mesenbrink.

“One hope through building ICSVPAC is that we will be able to foster and keep talent like Izzy in the region with us for many years to come,” Johnson said.

In any case, Mesenbrink will be back in action in Spokane Valley as soon as “The Cher Show” tour ends.

She will perform as Maria Elena Holly in SVST’s upcoming “Buddy: the Buddy Holly Story” from July 26-Aug. 11. She will also music direct the fourth-annual “Rising Stars” show.

While Cher was a virtual unknown to Mesenbrink when she started the tour, she has come to embrace the enduring entertainer’s music and gutsy life story.

“The Cher Show’s overriding message is to just be fearless and to go for it, which I think is so applicable to me as well, you know, as a girl coming from Spokane and then going to the big city and all over the country,” Mesenbrink said. “I think finding the power to reach for what you want is just so relatable.”