Classic novel, pop hits come together in SHS musical

Combine Jane Austen’s 1815 novel “Emma” with pop and rock hit songs from the ’80s and ’90s and what do you get? “Emma: A Pop Musical.”

In the English novelist’s book, it centers on Emma Woodhouse, a precocious young woman whose misplaced confidence in her matchmaking abilities occasions several romantic misadventures.

In Eric Price’s musical released in recent years, Emma is a senior at Highbury Prep who is certain she knows what’s best for her classmates’ love lives and is determined to find the perfect boyfriend for shy sophomore Harriet by the end of the school year. Her relentless matchmaking, however, may get in the way of finding her own happiness.

The unique twist on the show is it features the hit songs of iconic female singers and legendary girl groups from recent decades.

Seymour High School is presenting the show at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Earl D. Prout Auditorium.

Kyle Karum, director of choral music at SHS, said this was the second of three musicals he conducted at his previous job. At that time, it was a new show, and his school was only the second one to do it.

“I saw a lot of the benefits of it then because this show is great to showcase the girls and develop the boys,” he said. “I think that’s one of our needs in the program is we’ve got great talent all around, but there are more named females than named males. That’s actually pretty common amongst high schools. This show kind of fits a lot of needs for the people. … It allows for a lot of schools big and small the opportunity to do what they need to do.”

The storyline about self-discovery in teenagers is appropriate for high school actors, too.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to develop their characters, and there are a lot of parallels in the story to what we see every day in the classroom,” Karum said. “I think it’s very cool that it’s a modern-day adaptation because obviously, ‘Emma,’ the original Jane Austen novel, it’s more of a period piece, and this is modern day with modern music.”

The music ranges from Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” to Lisa Loeb’s “Stay (I Missed You)” to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” to Katy Perry’s “Roar.”

It’s an interesting dynamic because many of the adults in the audience will know the songs, but many of the actors aren’t familiar with the music.

“I teach a lot of music from a lot of genres, especially in the choral idiom, but this was an opportunity for a lot of these students to learn some of these iconic pop and rock songs that they may have never heard of but the audience will know immediately,” Karum said.

Junior Liza Stuckwisch, who plays the lead role, said it’s out of her comfort zone to sing pop music, but she has grown to like the songs in the show.

“It’s just a bunch of hits through the decades, mostly female, but it’s really fun,” she said. “It’s different than what we normally do in choir.”

In the show, Emma is popular at school, but she’s kind of pushy and wants to be in control of everything, Stuckwisch said. Throughout the show, though, there’s growth in her character.

“I like playing her because she’s spunky, and that’s not too far from me, so it’s fun,” she said. “It’s a fun role to be in, and I like all of the music. It’s really lively.”

This is Stuckwisch’s first lead role. In last year’s musical, she said she only had a couple of lines, so this year is a big change.

“I grew up and I watched these musicals. It was my dream to be able to be the lead,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to do it. I’ve done theater my whole life, so it was something I thought would be fun.”

Senior Vanessa Ross plays the role of Harriet.

“I’m really shy, quirky, kind of a nerd,” Ross said of her character. “Emma tries to get me to experience new things and get out there, meet new people.”

She, too, likes the storyline and music.

“I feel like it teaches people to be more of themselves and stop holding back on things that they want to go do,” she said of the story. “The music is amazing. I love the music in this show. Actually, I grew up listening to Whitney Houston and singing her songs, so I’m very familiar with it, and it’s awesome.”

Fellow senior Zach Bowman portrays Jeff, who is at the top of his class and subs for his chemistry and biology teachers when they get married and go on a honeymoon. Being a part-time teacher and part-time student creates an interesting dynamic between the characters, he said.

“My favorite part about it is it teaches people to be themselves, but it also teaches you to speak up for what you want and what you believe in and strive to get it,” he said.

While Bowman likes the music in the show because he’s into classic rock and pop from the ’80s and ’90s, junior Titus Boyd said he hadn’t heard many of the songs before taking on the role of Frankie Churchill.

Frankie left school as a freshman to pursue his music career, but he comes back and surprises everyone and gets attached to them.

As he has learned the songs and seen how the characters in the show develop, Boyd has grown fonder of the music.

“They are pretty difficult songs, but I think we have the people here to get it done,” he said. “They are pretty catchy songs. I like them.”

If you go 

What: Seymour High School’s production of “Emma: A Pop Musical”

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Earl D. Prout Auditorium at the school, 1350 W. Second St., Seymour

Cost: $8 if bought in advance in the school’s main office or online at; $10 at the door; $5 for the matinee

Director: Kyle Karum

Music director: Kevin Cottrill

Accompanist and producer: Karla Shutters

Principal cast: Zach Bowman, Titus Boyd, Branden Capps, Jayla Gambrel, Millie Hays, Carly Kaiser, Grayson Key, Curtis Nowling, Kaitlyn Proctor, Vanessa Ross and Liza Stuckwisch

Plot-essential and other named characters: Katie Burton, Eliza Cash, Katya Cox, Sami Foster, Jacob Guffey, Owen Kruse, Owen Lauster, Addie Smith, Jenna Wheeler, Carmyn Wilson and McKenzie Wirtz