published Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Chattanooga actress gets boost as lead in 'Oliver'

  • photo
    Emmaline Champion, 12, plays the lead role of Oliver in Oliver, the Musical, a musical adaptation of Dickens' novel Oliver Twist. Here, Champion poses for a portrait during a dress rehearsal at The Colonnade in Ringgold, Ga., on Thursday evening.
    Photo by Alyson Wright /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

CLAIM TO FAME

Emmaline Champion, 10, has been in five productions since age 5. She is currently sharing the titular role in "Oliver, the Musical" at the Catoosa County Colonnade in Ringgold, Ga.

ABOUT HER

• School: Home-schooled fifth-grader.

• Siblings: Savannah, 15, Ben, 12, and Jonathan, 8.

• Hobbies: Volleyball, reading and playing "Minecraft."

• Favorite role: Oliver in "Oliver."

• Dream play: "Wicked."

NEXT UP

Ever After Productions' run of "Oliver, The Musical" at the Catoosa Colonnade (264 Catoosa Circle, Ringgold, Ga.) will conclude with three shows this weekend at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Emmaline Champion will appear in all performances but will play the lead in only the Saturday evening show. Tickets are $12-$15. Call 706-935-9000 for more information.

TALENT SHOW

Do you know a child age 17 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, email staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or call him at 423-757-6205.

In Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist," an orphaned boy endures dramatic hardships in 19th-century London, but the greatest difficulty Emmaline Champion faced in portraying him onstage was learning to throw a punch.

During rehearsals for a fight scene in the musical adaptation of Dickens' novel, Emmaline, 10, said she was told in that, in short, she punched too much like a girl.

"After we did the scene, [my partner] said, 'Please hit me harder,' so I said, 'I'll try,' " she said, laughing and slapping the air.

Eventually, Emmaline nailed the proper technique and overcame one of the only hurdles she said she has faced in preparing for her first lead role since taking up acting at age 5.

That's not to say playing Oliver hasn't been demanding in other respects. Emmaline also needed to learn other masculine behaviors, such as how to sit and stand. She also made the particularly dramatic sacrifice of cutting her hair.

Although she was desperate to land the role, she said her visit to the hairdresser in June was especially difficult. After years of having hair that stretched to her waist, it now ends just below her ears.

It's a change that was necessary, but she admits that it has caused her mixed emotions.

"It's just crazy and so different," she said, adding that she donated her shorn tresses to Locks of Love. "I was willing, but I didn't exactly want to."

Being cast as Oliver in the Ever After Productions show brings Emmaline full circle. She made her debut in one of the company's previous productions of the musical.

The first time, she was a workhouse boy and sang in a handful of songs. This time, the requirements are more significant but also more rewarding.

"It's very different being the lead from having a small part, but it's a good different," Emmaline said. "Being the main role is a lot of fun, and it requires a lot of work.

"If I mess up, there's no one else to cover up for me. That's pretty different."

Labronda Champion said she and her husband, Shayne Champion, initially were convinced their daughter was destined to be a dancer after watching her re-enact dance scenes from Barbie movies as a toddler.

Despite a few years of lessons in tap and ballet, however, her interest in dancing soon waned. It soon was replaced by singing, which has continued, along with acting.

Despite Emmaline's obvious interests in dancing and singing, Mrs. Champion said she never expected Emmaline to follow her older sister and brother onto the stage.

When she was younger, Emmaline was always shy, but being in the spotlight has had a transformative effect on her, said Champion, who sewed the production's costumes and also is portraying a minor role.

"It's important to [Emmaline] that she does her very best in whatever she's doing," she said. "She's had to do many challenging things in 'Oliver,' and I think that has to help building her confidence."

Dedication to understanding Oliver and his motivations helped Emmaline stand out during auditions, said Jonathan Humble, the executive director and co-producer of "Oliver."

And even if she needed help in locking in the finer points of masculine fisticuffs, she brings a maturity to her performance that belies her youth, he said.

"She steps it up and goes above and beyond what you would expect of someone her age," Humble said. "[Onstage,] you see Emmaline come alive. She really reaches out and grabs your heart."

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @Phillips CTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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