'I had to fill in a lot of the blanks. It’s a lot of my imagination. For me, the music also played a part in shaping this role,' says the Sabah-born Palikat, who plays Mother Mary Euphrasia. Photo: Penn Lee

Musical pays tribute to Good Shepherd Sisters founder Mother Mary Euphrasia

Where have all the good role models gone? For Sister Joan Lopez, the Province Leader of the Good Shepherd Sisters (Singapore and Malaysia), it is important for young people to have someone they can aspire to be.

“In today’s world, that’s a very challenging thing to do, especially for the young people. It’s hard to find a good role model,” says Lopez in a recent interview in Petaling Jaya.

So when the 150th death anniversary of Mother Mary Euphrasia (1796–1868), the French Roman Catholic nun who founded the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (Good Shepherd) came last year, Lopez knew she couldn’t have asked for something more timely.

Here was Mother Mary Euphrasia, a woman who fought the patriarchy of her time and helped countless women and children in her hometown in Angers during the post-French Revolution days.

More than a century later, her pioneering works still carry on in 73 countries through the Good Shepherd congregation, which fights against human trafficking, prostitution and poverty, and provides shelter and training for women and children.

“We want to remind people about her legacy,” says Lopez, 59.

She adds that a musical is the best way to tell Mary Euphrasia’s story.

Enter Euphrasia – The Musical, a new musical by local playwrights Cheah UiHua and Terence Toh, opening at KLPac’s Pentas 1 on April 26. Next month, the musical will also be touring Ipoh, Perak and Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

The show is a collaboration between The Actors Studio and the Good Shepherd Sisters.

The two-hour long musical, which contains 29 songs, is helmed by Dominic Lucien Luk (Monday Show School Of Musical Theatre co-founder) , who is no stranger to the Malaysian musical theatre scene, with works like Avenue Q (2016) and Fame (2017).

The show’s music was composed by singer-songwriter Mia Palencia and arranged by Loh Ui Li. The musical features an ensemble of 27 actors and 13 musicians.

The main cast of Euphrasia includes Nikki Palikat, Megan Chng, Qahar Aqilah, Doreen Tang, Ho Soon Yoon and Alia Kearney.

“What’s beautiful about this story is the fire that was within Mary, since she was a young girl, that allowed her to do the things that she did. That really inspired me and I think it will inspire others too,” shares Palikat, who plays the titular role in the musical.

Palikat, 33, says this is arguably the toughest role she had to play. With Mary Euphrasia being a historical figure from the 19th century, Palikat notes she did not have any immediate reference to Mary Euphrasia’s physicality and voice.

“I had to fill in a lot of the blanks. It’s a lot of my imagination. For me, the music also played a part in shaping this role,” says the Sabah-born Palikat.

“If you take a step back and look at the obstacles that Mary Euphrasia faced, it’s pretty amazing that she was able to accomplish what she did. I feel she had to be an energetic person. So that’s the element I used in portraying her, from the way she moves to the way she talks,” she adds.

Euphrasia – The Musical is set in 19th century France, after the French Revolution, and tells the story of how one woman, through her smarts and tenacity, did amazing feats to better the lives of the marginalised. Photo: Penn Lee

Luk, 36, wants to clarify that the musical is by no means a biopic or even a founding story of a church.

“We are taking the story from a very social angle. It’s about issues like human rights, social justice and how you treat people on the streets. Those who are suffering and marginalised. That’s what Mary Euphrasia did. The musical focuses on her tenacity, her smarts and her practicality in improving the lives of those around her,” explains Luk, who adds directing a musical about a historical figure is a challenge in itself.

“There’s a lot of historic facts to honour. A lot of research was involved,” he adds.

Writers Cheah and Toh took them nearly a year to complete the script.

“We had to study the details of how the nuns lived and things they would or would not do … like the proper way to address a bishop, abide by church laws and so on. We really had to look deep into these things,” says Toh.

For the writers, it was also tough deciding which parts of Mary Euphrasia’s life would be highlighted.

“She had so many great moments throughout her life and career,” says Cheah.

“There were many times where Terence and I had to make the hard decision between leaving something out or writing a four-hour long musical!”

The musical strives to faithfully tell how a woman triumphed over insurmountable obstacles to better the lives of the weak and marginalised.

“There’s always a solution to a problem when we work together with others. All we need to do is get away from a singular mentality. This is something for us to think about in this country. If we work together, change can happen,” says Luk.

All proceeds of this show go towards work to eliminate of all forms of gender-based violence primarily in domestic violence, human trafficking and programmes on child marriage prevention and empowerment of women and girls.

Euphrasia – The Musical will be staged at Pentas 1, KLPac, Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan, off Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah in Kuala Lumpur from April 26-28. Showtimes: April 26-27 (8.30pm). Tickets range between RM200 and RM800. More info: www.proticket.com.my, www.klpac.org. Call: 016 205 3548. There will also be additional shows at Auditorium RTM Perak, Ipoh on May 3 and 4 at 8pm and Auditorium JKKN Sabah, Kota Kinabalu on May 10 and 11 at 7.30pm. Disclosure: Terence Toh is a StarLifestyle writer.

Article appeared on the Star Online.