Emma! A Pop Musical is Twin City Theatre Company’s Stars of Tomorrow show this summer which is currently running, and I had the chance to see it on opening night. The performance featured an ensemble of teens and youth and was hosted at the downtown Champaign venue, the SoDo Theatre. Opening night was held on a Friday, which coincided with the Friday Night Live event that occurs weekly during the summertime. This made parking a little hard to find, but I really didn’t mind walking from a few blocks away to the theatre considering it was a beautiful, albeit hot, summer night.
The SoDo theatre is a unique venue and if you’ve ever attended a performance theatre, you might know that it does have some challenges due to the unique architecture of the building it’s located inside. Backstage area is limited. Due to the position of my chair, I was able to see back there. I didn’t find it to be distracting as I was much more invested in action onstage. The SoDo space allows for a modest audience, and I was delighted to see that all of the chairs were filled with a crowd who had come out to cheer on the Stars of Tomorrow, who proved themselves to be talented singers and dancers.
Emma! A Pop Musical loosely follows the storyline of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel, but gives it a 21st century prep school twist. Emma Woodhouse, portrayed by Sammi Schmidt, considers herself to be Highbury Prep’s top matchmaker after she sets up two of her teachers. She tries to set up her best friend Harriet Smith (Jordyn Warhover), with school president nominee Philip Elton (Veronica Bechtel) and herself up with rockstar Frankie Churchill (Caden Hanlon). Meanwhile, the arrival of a new potential student and heiress, Jane Fairfax (Emma Huart), stirs up controversy. All in all, Emma’s matchmaking plots go awry, Harriet ends up with the ‘commoner’ lunch busboy Martin (Carson Smith), and Emma ends up with the power-focused schoolboy Jeff Knightley (Mitchell Whitlock). The cast of fifteen middle school and high school age students from C-U and its surrounding communities.
As the title suggests, Emma features an interesting and unexpected collection of modern and older pop songs, often focusing on love and the strength of women. Some numbers include Shania Twain’s ‘Man, I Feel Like A Woman,’ ‘Heartbreaker’ by Pat Benatar, ‘Roar’ by Katy Perry, and ‘Unwritten’ by Natasha Bedingfield. The songs were cleverly mashed together in places, creating mini-medleys. I found Schmidt and Warhover to have particularly strong voices, and was delighted by their vocal stamina throughout the show. These two young women impressively nailed some higher, belted out notes. Emma’s high energy music was accompanied by funky choreography by Michael Ryan. Direction was provided by Chandler Dalton, who is the drama director at St. Joseph-Ogden High School. This was her second time directing for Twin City Theatre Company, and she was assisted by Canyon Alwes. Music and Vocal Direction was by Joanna Carlson.
Despite the script being a little strange, I rather enjoyed that it didn’t take itself too seriously. It was goofy and carefree, which made it perfect for children’s theatre. Bizarre circumstances in the show included a senior filling in as a long-term substitute, a former classmate just happening to be a rockstar, and a gag involving vending machine-related accidents.
The existence of this production and the exuberance behind it make it clear that there is a heavy interest in theatre among C-U younger community. In addition to Twin City Theatre Company’s Stars of Tomorrow, other notable children'a theatre groups include both of the Champaign and Urbana Park Districts, Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company, and Class Act.
If you have a child who loves to sing in the shower or makes little shows with their stuffed animals in the backyard, consider getting them involved in children’s theatre. Or, if you don’t have a child, consider making a donation to a local children’s theatre organization. More information on how to do so can be found via each organization’s website. Support local theatre and support our community’s young, budding artists!
Emma: A Pop Musical
Twin City Theatre Company
111 S Walnut St, Champaign
June 28th through July 7th
Get tickets online
Photos from Twin City Theatre Company Facebook Page