Emily Koch in “eMulbOy5”
The Triad – Feb 3, 2020
We have all looked back to our childhood in search of answers, memories, or perhaps motivation for a cabaret show. Emily Koch went back to age 13, to her journal, and created a clever and insightful show about growing up, discovering herself and finally, accepting and celebrating herself. She did this by using entries from her journal, presented verbatim, from when she was in seventh grade. From there, she presented songs that helped to tell the story of a burgeoning young woman who felt more like one of boys, so she began referring to herself as Emul and created her AOL profile as eMulbOy5.
Koch tells the story of a music theater-loving young girl who was obsessed with the fictional character of Elphaba and idolized her theatrical hero, Sutton Foster. The show begins with Koch reading the first entry of the journal that explains that she will no longer be starting her entries with “Dear Diary,” but instead, she will use “Dear Elphaba,” her theatrical heroine and dream role.
Koch’s story starts with the drama of her best friend Sarah moving away. At the same time, she was struggling to find her identity, feeling more comfortable as “one of the boys,” often finding herself at odds with the popular girls in school, who were also her rivals in the drama club.
Throughout the show, Koch was joined on stage by friends and fellow Broadway performers who played the parts of her friends, enemies and teenage crushes. Nick Rehberger joined her for We are the Boys (Roger Miller) as Koch introduces us to Emul, her new alter ego and the inspiration for her AOL screenname. Koch’s rendition of the Mob Song from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Howard Ashman, Alan Menken), featuring Arica Jackson and Tess Soltau as the “mean girls” in school, was used to great effect to set the stage for her teenage drama to unfold.
Koch leads us through her 7th grade year, from auditioning for the school musical, missing her best friend, having her first kiss, to being dumped by her first crush, cleverly intertwining her journal entries with the songs. A heart-warming rendition of Hold On from THE SECRET GARDEN (Lucy Simon, Marsha Norman), arranged by Jim Hogan, was powerfully sung by Koch along with Emma Stratton and Jim Hogan. All three brought a powerful authenticity and freshness to the song, serving as a wonderful example of how a song can tell a myriad of different stories. Finishing her journey through 7th grade, Koch brings us through her being cast as the lead in the musical, getting dumped by not one, but two crushes, and finding her love and passion for the theater.
While more of a set, theatrical show than a cabaret, eMulbOy5 was a charming evening of storytelling through the innocence, hope and angst of a young woman just trying to find where she fits in. For Koch, it was a journey that started with the journal entry “Dear Elphaba,” and led her eventually, almost as a self-fulfilling prophecy, to play Elphaba on Broadway. Koch flawlessly flowed from story to song, displaying a mastery of a wide range of vocal styles and genres. The evening ended with the adult Koch responding to her younger counterpart with a touching rendition of The Singer (Walter Marks), reassuring her younger self that she will find her way to her own Joy.
The show, directed by Colon Pometta, flowed smoothly through the stories and the songs, integrating both seamlessly, all while transporting us back to a time of awkwardness, excitement, despair and hope that we can all remember. Music Director Evan Rees did a wonderful job adjusting the songs to suit the story. His underscoring added a subtle, and at times cheeky, level of commentary to the story.
The show as a theatrical piece was well conceived and beautifully executed with each singer on the stage giving a powerful and stellar performance. While the story was touching and honest, the performance was more of a concert work, with the audience as observer, and less of the intimate style of cabaret where the singer breaks the fourth wall and speaks more directly to the audience. Both approaches certainly allow the singer to tell their story well, and as the world of cabaret expands and evolves, we will see a wider range of styles, genres and approaches to the shows in the world of cabaret theater.
eMulbOy5 (a pre-teen saga of love, fandom and identity) is a delightful show, creative, fresh and evocative of those awkward teenage years and one young woman’s journey through them.
Elphaba – Joan Marcus
Headshot – unknown