‘Emma, The Musical’ debuts in Edmonton July 7

Jeannine Naboye, left, and Gerald Penaco, background left, Raphael Tolentino and Maicah Macatangay in a scene from Emma the Musical. LARRY WONG / POSTMEDIA NETWORKEdmonton, Alberta

By Ted Alcuitas

A local Filipino group is putting a musical production Emma The Musical -a romantic tale set against the Japanese invasion of the Philippines during the Second World War.Directed by Ida Beltran-Lucila, founder of Edmonton’s Philippine Arts Council, it is an original Filipino musical in English based on a true story.

“It’s a personal story about love of country, love of family, and hope,” she told the Edmonton Journal in an interview.

The musical will debut at the Myer Horowitz Theatre on the University of Alberta campus, 8900 114 St.

With an  all-Filipino cast  of 22, the musical’s local composer Erica Cawagas, hopes that the show will soon be on stages from here to the Philippines and back, and on the lips of every fan who can’t resist a heartfelt tune set to a series of body-busting dance moves.

Cawagas, who partnered to create Emma with TV producer and writer Chie Floresca, knows the story will sell within Edmonton’s substantial Filipino community. But she’s hoping non-Filipinos will come, too, she tells the Edmonton Journal.

“It’s a musical about the Second World War and the first thing you think about is Germany, the U.S. and Pearl Harbour,” says Cawagas, 25, who was born in the Philippines but moved to Edmonton when she was two. “But there are a lot of things that happened to the Philippines during Second World War. We had a big effect on the war, and it had a big effect on us. These are stories that should be told.”

Cawagas was raised around music. Her mother is a piano and guitar teacher and Cawagas was drawn to perform at a young age, becoming a member of a Journey cover band when she attended Harry Ainlay High School.

After graduating from MacEwan University with a diploma in musical composition in 2014, the award-winning musician was unsure how to apply her artistic talents. At the time, her family in the Philippines was getting set to celebrate her great grandmother Emma’s 95th birthday, and so Cawagas and her aunt, Chie Floresca, decided to write a musical tribute in her honour.

The musical tells the story of an endearing young school teacher, Emma, who must make difficult choices about life while the war rages around her. It is set in a rural town near Baguio City, Philippines, on the cusp of the Japanese occupation of 1942,

Sadly, great grandmother Emma died before the show could be realized, but the dream was launched. Cawagas moved to the Philippines, where her aunt lives, for a year to get the show up and running, but couldn’t get funding to launch it there. So she came back to Edmonton, where her pitch met with success.

“My artistic family is here in Edmonton and I have a great team here,”  Cawagas told The Journal.

Funded in part through a grant by the Edmonton Arts Council, as well as the Filipino-Canadian Saranay Association of Alberta, the musical features a singing and dancing cast of 22.

“It’s a big production and everyone has given as much time as they can to this,” says Cawagas.

Max’s Restaurant, a restaurant chain from the Philippines with an Edmonton outlet, has provided support, as well as Loriz Bakery, and the Four Points Hotel.

All the cast members are local talents and the Filipino community performing arts leader, Ida Beltran-Lucila, founder of the Philippine Arts Council, directs the production. Choreography is by JoJo Lucila, who has taught and choreographed with the Edmonton Festival Ballet, at Victoria School of the Arts, and the Ukrainian Shumka Dancers.

“It’s not full of gory details, we just touch on the war, but it’s a story set within that historical framework. It is also a love story within a tragedy. Just like Titanic.”

Ideally, the producers hope to take the musical across Canada, and eventually to Manilla. Emma The Musical is designed to be portable.

“The set, everything is collapsible, and could fit in the baggage part of a bus,” says Beltran-Lucila, a ballet dancer by training and the former executive director with the national ballet company of the Philippines. “We just want it to have a life beyond July 7.”


Emma, The Musical

Written and composed by: Erica Cawagas and Chie Floresca

Directed by: Ida Beltran-Lucila, with choreography by JoJo Lucila

Theatre:  Playing July 7 only at the Myer Horowitz Theatre on the University of Alberta campus, 8900 114 St.

Tickets: Available at ticketfly.com for $35, and suitable for all ages


Ida Beltran-Lucila, Artistic Director
Jea Cawagas, Production Manager
Erica Cawagas, Musical Director


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