Review: ‘Impossible not to sing along’: ‘Emma: A Pop Musical’ is captivating

‘Emma: A Pop Musical’ retains much of the commentary of the Jane Austen novel on which it is based. (Photo Courtesy of Lafayette College)

Lafayette’s virtual adaptation of “Emma: A Pop Musical,” based on Jane Austen’s popular novel, “Emma,” rises above the challenges of the online forum to deliver a fun, energetic performance that leaves the audience smiling and humming its catchy tunes long after the final curtain call. The play, directed by theater professor Mary Jo Lodge, features the story of Emma Woodhouse and her exciting and sometimes misguided endeavors into the love lives of those around her.

The play begins with Emma, portrayed by the vocally gifted Maddy Proulx ‘21, bragging about her successful efforts to set up two of her previously unhappy teachers on the day of their wedding set to the classic “Chapel of Love.” 

Emma is then inspired to make her sweet and naive friend, Harriet, portrayed by Caroline Watters ‘22, the next target of her matchmaking efforts. Despite Harriet’s obvious interest in kitchen employee, Martin, played by the apron-clad Billy DeVito ‘22, and the objections of student and part-time teacher, Jeff, played by Noah Reubeck, Emma decides that Harriet belongs with hopeful student council president Philip, portrayed by Ethan Miller ’21.

The drama comes to a head as Emma finds herself at the center of a complicated love triangle, as the feelings of Jeff, Philip, and student rockstar Frankie Churchill, played by Matthew White ‘23, shake up the relationship scene at Highbury Prep. What follows is a glimpse into the dramatic and complex world of high school relationships, as well as the difficult questions surrounding access to private school education, as Emma plans a dance to raise scholarship funds for prospective students. 

Performing a show in a virtual format does not come without its challenges. Undoubtedly, important factors like chemistry between characters and the impeccable timing that makes scenes flow perfectly can become lost on the screen. However, these talented students and faculty managed to use the capabilities of the virtual space to their advantage. Brightly colored backgrounds and moving images made the show just as captivating as any in-person play. Upbeat renditions of hit pop songs such as “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “Brave,” “Roar” and many more, make it nearly impossible not to sing along.

The performance puts a modern twist on Austen’s work with all the charm and social criticism of the original story. The titular character even gives a nod to the novel early in the play. “It sounds like a name from an 1800s English novel,” Emma chuckles in reference to Jeff’s new title of Mr. Knightley. 

Additionally, the setting of a modern day high school does not take away from the commentary found in the original Austen novel. Issues such as social class, vanity and misperceptions of others find meaning in the halls of Highbury Prep and will resonate with viewers of all ages. 

The show will be streaming again tonight, Oct. 31, at 7:30 p.m. and tomorrow, Sun., Nov. 1, at 2:00 p.m.. Tickets can be found on the college’s ticket office website.

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