W.C. Miller students presenting modern take of Jane Austen classic in "Emma! A Pop Musical"
W.C. Miller Collegiate students and staff are getting ready for opening night of "Emma! A Pop Musical", February 28th through March 2nd. It’s based on the Jane Austen classic novel, with a modern twist on the script and music. Drama and English teacher Sarah Gilbert and Music teacher Jody Friesen are co-directing the production. "It focuses around a senior named Emma, and she's kind of navigating her way through high school," explained Gilbert about the story. "She's a little bit of a control freak. If you've seen (the movie) "Clueless", it's kind of similar to that storyline. She's navigating friendships and romance, and basically wanting to control everything she can. There's going to be a lot of singing and dancing, and the setting is in a private high school called Highbury Prep." Friesen is focused on directing the musical side of the production, one that includes a large cast of nearly three dozen actors and actresses. "We have a lot of students involved in the ensemble, and there's a lot of large ensemble numbers, so the music side of it is really intensive," she shared while highlighting what it's like to work with such a large cast. "Especially with all the choreography, you have to learn to multitask pretty well. You have to sing out, and you have to be vulnerable with each other. That's the beauty of putting together a musical production, seeing a group of people come together, and having to rely on each other for supports." Gilbert has also enjoyed working with the large number of students, which includes cast members from Grade 9 through 12. "It doesn't really matter your age when they're on stage, they come together and it's a beautiful thing to witness, because they're kind of like this family working together on stage," she noted. "It's awesome. We don't even take that into consideration, the age gap, that's not seen when working on this musical, so that's been really awesome. They're dancing together, they're spinning together, they're acting together and it's been really cool to see those differences come together and just work." Three of those leads visited CFAM Radio 950 studios to share their thoughts on the production; Grade 10 Nolan Franz who plays Philip Elton, Grade 12 Madison Gerbrandt playing Emma Woodhouse and Grade 9 Elliot Rempel who is playing the role of Jeff Knightley. "I was very excited when I found out, I was very shocked and I'm grateful I get to have this role, especially in my last year of high school, I get to kind of end it off with a bang," said Gerbrandt when asked about playing the role of Emma. "I'm most excited to see it all put together at the end. We've put in so much work, and it'll be nice to just see everyone on stage, and all the dances coming together, and along with the acting. I'm just excited to see the overall picture." "This is my second time," said Rempel when asked if he'd been on stage before considering he's one of the youngest leads. "I was Rafiki last year in the Parkside play 'Lion King', so this is my second year. I have a little bit of experience. Rehearsals have really ramped up, it's feeling like, okay, this is happening. We are doing this." "Philip is a kind of cocky and arrogant guy, he thinks he's all that running for student council President, and I feel like I kind of fit the role, because I'm on the hockey team, and I kind of look the role," said Franz with a smile and laugh. "It's fun to play that, and act like I'm 'the guy'. It's kind of cool to be that kind of guy." And what is it about musicals that makes them so fun to be part of? Gilbert pointed immediately to the energy. "There's a different energy and tone when it comes to musicals, and I think Jody would say too, especially because there's choreography, and there's these awesome dance numbers," she said. "You see a different side of the students in that regard. It's not just up there running lines. It's now, 'I might have to pick this person up and spin them around, or I might have to get down.' It's awesome, and I think that's been really cool. We get to see the silly side of the cast and the students." "The choreography is a highlight, those rehearsals are always filled with laughter," noted Friesen. "This is the first time I've ever actually done some of the choreography myself, so it's been a learning curve, we'll put it that way. We have a wonderful staff member, Alyia Stoesz, who is helping us, as well. We've had to band together as staff to come up with choreography. To see it come to life, and realize those were some cool moves, will be really fun." W.C. Miller Collegiate in Altona presents "Emma! A Pop Musical" February 28th through March 2nd at the school. Tickets are available online or at the door. You can listen to CFAM Radio 950 Morning Show host Chris Sumner's conversation with the group, below.