Farewell, Emma Yong

A post dedicated to the late Emma Yong

1976 – 2012

It was the year 1999. I was sitting on the steps of the open-air amphitheater, listening intently as my school principal introduced a lady from my alma mater that had broken out into the local theatre scene. She was Emma Yong, and 23 years of age then. She sang “Matchmaker” from Fiddler on the Roof, in which she starred as Hodel (Singapore Lyric Theatre production 1999). I remember the utter shock and goosebumps I felt from hearing such a beautiful voice live. She was pitch-perfect, had a big theatric singing voice, and her delivery of the song was playful, yet still angelic. Poised, graceful and donning a long flowing skirt, Emma impressed all the wide-eyed schoolgirls. The performance made us sit up and listen to our own hearts: were we just driven to become doctors, lawyers, accountants, women CEOs? Or was there space for us in Singapore to make a living with our natural talents and passions?

More than 13 years on, I still fondly recall that performance. And over these 13 years, Emma grew into an established actress and performer. From theatre (Mammon Inc.-2002, Boeing Boeing – 2005, Blackbird – 2005, Cabaret – 2006, Cinderel-LAH – 2010) to the big screen (Glen Goei’s The Blue Mansion – 2009), her star shone brightly. She was versatile in both serious roles and comedic fare. Emma was probably best known for her role in the glitzy and fun Dim Sum Dollies, a musical cabaret group with Pam Oei and Selena Tan which was formed in 2002. The Dollies performed to sold-out crowds and had a visually spectacular stage appearance complete with pink feather boas and shiny dresses, boasting all things Singaporean with their sense of humour and cheeky quips.

Over the years Emma was constantly in the public eye, and she leveraged on her fame to support causes like Women make a Difference (against trafficking in women) and World Aids Day. Singaporeans followed news about her wedding with her first husband, Gerald Chew, in 2002. The couple split a year later. We later rejoiced as she married the interior designer Mr. Jerry Lim in 2011, only to read that she had been stricken with Stage 4 stomach cancer in January that same year. Her 16-month battle with cancer had a brief interlude as she performed in the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods last year, but she soon had to pull-out of Dream Academy’s Crazy Christmas after suffering a relapse.

In one way or another, Emma’s talents touched a wide spectrum of people who managed to catch her performances. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed Emma in Cinderel-LAH. Little would I know that it would be the last time I saw her on stage.

Judging from the reaction of fellow thespians and theatre directors, it is clear that she was well-loved in the scene too, and her passing has devastated one too many. Friends of Emma like Neo Swee Lin and Janice Koh tweeted sorrowfully upon hearing the news (http://sg.entertainment.yahoo.com/blogs/singapore-showbiz/actress-emma-yong-passes-away-36-175311010.html). Suffice to say that Singapore has lost yet another precious gem in the theatre scene.

Fare thee well, Emma, we will meet again when the time is right. Thank you for sharing your talent with the rest of us, and showing us that good local theatre begets high praise, when performed with all one’s being.

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