Raucous cheers greeted the cast and crew of Emma – The Musical as they exited the Myer Horowitz Theatre in jubilation and joined their adoring audience in the lobby on the evening of July 7, 2018. Presented by the Fil-Can Saranay Association with music by Erica Cawagas, and script by Chie Floresca, the musical, under the artistic direction of Ida Beltran-Lucila with choreography by Jojo Lucila, achieved a well-deserved standing ovation.Raucous cheers greeted the cast and crew of Emma – The Musical as they exited the Myer Horowitz Theatre in jubilation and joined their adoring audience in the lobby on the evening of July 7, 2018. Presented by the Fil-Can Saranay Association with music by Erica Cawagas, and script by Chie Floresca, the musical, under the artistic direction of Ida Beltran-Lucila with choreography by Jojo Lucila, achieved a well-deserved standing ovation.
Performing to a packed theatre, the cast of Emma, consisting of Hannah Adamson, Jo-Ann Aguilar, Cassandra Baltazar, Simonette Brigola, Jimmy Buena, Hans Casana, Marjorie Galido,Cameron Gamez, Carlos Gamo, Veronica Knodel, Mark Laraya, Catherine Lelis, Lauren Lizada, Maicah Macatangay, Jeannine Naboye,Gerald Penaco, Raphael Tolentino, Riana Torre, James Velasco, Julius Ylagan, Joshua Zoleta, and headed by Danielle Yu in the titular role, brought to life the story of a teacher who faced a world turned upside down during the Japanese occupation of 1942.
In the beginning, we follow Emma as she goes about her daily life as she teaches at the school, hangs out with friends and ventures into the park and marketplace. Though the dialogue is in English, the show itself is infused with a distinctly Filipino flavor. We’re treated to bouts of tsismis (gossip) and even see humor in the tribulations faced by a young man in the fanciful clutches of his panliligaw (courtship) of a certain special someone. It was easy to be drawn into the story and the intimacy of the theatre only aided in fully immersing the audience in the experience.
As the story progresses, we are abruptly pulled into a world of chaos. We hear gunshots erupt, missiles being launched, and smoke fills the stage. The Japanese have occupied the Philippines and Emma’s peaceful life is suddenly shattered. Dealing with separation and loss, she seeks to make sense of her situation while trying to be strong for the sake of others.
While I was watching a scene in which characters discuss joining the rebellion against the Japanese, a quote by Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter books suddenly came to mind: “Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” We see that Emma is faced with this choice, but we also see this struggle in characters we least expect it from. In times of war, it is not so simple to be able to say who is right and who is wrong as both sides believe that they are each fighting the just cause. That the perception of good and evil is not so black and white was wonderfully portrayed in this musical. Reflecting on this, I realized that at its core, Emma – The Musical emphasizes the importance of choosing to do what is right rather than taking the easy way out.
It also focuses on what sort of impact the actions of one person can have on many and shows that heroism does not always lie in acts of valor. We do not see Emma charging the battlefield, guns ablaze or bolo aloft. Rather, we, the audience, are presented with quiet acts of heroism that can be found in Emma’s compassion and support for anyone who needs it (be they friend or foe), being resilient in the face of her own struggles and her being able to persevere though the world around her is falling to pieces.
Compassion, resilience and perseverance—are these not traits that we, the Filipino community are intimately familiar with? We see compassion in our Filipino nurses and caregivers as they tend to the needs of others before their own. We see resilience in the overseas Filipino workers who endure long hours and challenging environments to be able to give their family back home a better life. We see perseverance in the millions of Filipino immigrants who, even in times of economic hardship in their adopted lands, still remember to smile in the face of adversity. To us, do these people not fit the definition of a modern-day bayani? Are they not heroes in their own right? Emma is this kind of hero, one whose constancy, love and strength serves as a beacon and inspiration to those around her.
I will not give away specific details of the story, nor the ending, as I believe that this first showing of Emma should not be its last. Speaking to choreographer Jojo Lucila immediately after the play, he voiced a wish that they be able to take Emma on tour. This would be a lofty undertaking indeed but with all the stalwart minds and talent backing this production, I would not be surprised if they pull it off.
My congratulations to everyone involved in bringing Emma to the stage. I look forward to seeing more from the creative minds behind it as well as from the talented artists who took part in its realization. I am heartened to see that the Filipino community’s artistic talent is starting to showcase itself in Alberta’s theatre scene and it is my sincere hope that we see more of Emma and similar productions in the future not just here, but across the country as well.
Photos by Malikhain Studio