Austen meets modern music in ‘Emma!’

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published April 5, 2016


Utica High School students hope to match up audiences to a familiar soundtrack and a classic story when they present “Emma!: A Pop Musical” April 21-23.

Utica High School Theater Director Joel Kaczmarczyk said he found the musical through Playscripts Inc. He said the musical has a recent copyright, and it was performed for the first time ever by Troy Athens High School.

“They sent me a copy, and I also had a reference CD,” he said. “I fell in love with it. It’s great.”

Kaczmarczyk explained that this musical production is little-known, with no Broadway or off-Broadway productions. However, the original 19th-century novel, “Emma,” by Jane Austen, is about the schemes of a rich young matchmaker.

Kaczmarczyk said that about 45 students are part of the cast, and the characters have the same names as, or names similar to, the ones from the original book. The plot is also similar, though the musical is set in a school called Highbury Prep, he said.

“The basic plot line is the main character, Emma, is trying to set up her friend, who is a shy sophomore, with a boy,” he said. “All of the songs just kind of reinforce the moments that are going on. … What it’s really called in the business is a jukebox musical, because all of the songs are recognizable — they’re pop songs.”

Kaczmarczyk said the musical’s score is derived from female singers and groups from the past few decades. Songs include ones by Natasha Bedingfield, Paula Abdul, Katy Perry, Avril Lavigne, Pat Benatar, Sara Bareilles, Shania Twain and more.

“Every song is recognizable to most audience members, which makes it fun,” he said. “I like to do shows that are different. ... I want to be different from the rest of the pack.”

Utica High senior Anna Hoffman, 18, plays the title role of Emma. She said she was excited to do the show because she had already read the original book in class. She called the show “high-energy.”

“It’s just really exciting to see this sassy character who I can relate to, who is singing songs I can definitely relate to,” Hoffman said. “Emma just wants to get things done and be the best she can possibly be, and she is always trying to do what is (good) for her friends, but she doesn’t always think about herself.”

Another senior, Sarah Van Sickle, 17, plays the role of Jane Fairfax. She said performing in this musical is fun because the actors learned how to sing contemporary songs that are heard frequently on the radio. For instance, her character sings Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

Van Sickle said she hopes that the audience likes the production.

“I think they would like it,” she said. “It’s definitely (for) everybody, and it’s cute.”

Utica High senior Robert Gambrell, 17, said this is his first musical production at the school, and he plays the role of celebrity pop star Frankie Churchill.

“He’s a former student of Highbury. … He performs ‘Heartbreaker,’ and everyone loves him and knows about him,” Gambrell said.
“My personality onstage is pretty much a cool, arrogant kind of guy. He likes feeding off the crowd.”

Utica High senior Brendan Kaczmarczyk, Joel Kaczmarczyk’s 17-year-old son, plays the role of Jeff Knightley, a student who is put in the position of being a substitute teacher. He also commented on the songs’ ability to connect with the audience.

“They’ll know them, and they’ll fall in love with them just like we did,” he said.

Utica High School will present “Emma!: A Pop Musical” at 7 p.m. April 21-23. Tickets cost $10 for adults, $9 for students, and $7 for children ages 12 and younger. Tickets may be bought at and tickets may be sold at the door, depending on availability. Learn more about the musical by calling (586) 797-2267.