Mulan Jr., which opened this past weekend at the Children’s Theatre, is storytelling at its best for young audiences. In just over an hour and a half, the production packs in fights, dancing, singing and—oh yes—there’s a resonant message in there too: anything guys can do, girls can do better.
Based on Disney’s 1998 animated film Mulan, the play tells the story of a young Chinese girl who risks her life by disguising herself as a young man to join the Imperial Army. Taking her father’s place, she eventually brings honor to her family by helping save the country from the invading Huns. But beyond that, Mulan is the story of a girl who shows she will not be restrained by conventional roles and that she is just as capable as her male counterparts when she uses her mind. In the world of Disney “princesses,” Mulan is one of the most well-rounded. It was encouraging to see young girls of all sizes and colors sporting kimonos to Saturday night’s performance, wanting to be just like Mulan.
As the title character, Katie Bradley is a powerful female role model. She strays away from anything that might be conceived as dainty and instead focuses on broad humor and confidence. Some of Bradley’s choices are a bit too cartoon-like, but the audience seemed to respond well to her approach. Dean Holt brings a comedic perspective as Mulan’s dragon sidekick Mushu. Unfortunately, because he is not in fact the size of a lizard, the endearing relationship between Mulan and Mushu as seen in the film is missing.
|mulan jr., playing through may 16 at the children’s theatre. for tickets ($15-$40) and information, see childrenstheatre.org.|
There has been much attention given to the fact that CTC cast some non-Asian actors in this production. And while I hate to bring more attention to this, because I’m all for color-blind casting, for a show that is so deeply rooted in Chinese culture and tradition, it was a bit disappointing to not see that entirely reflected on stage. This was most notable in the casting of Joshua James Campbell in the role of Shang, the Imperial Army captain who leads the charge to protect China against the Huns and eventually falls for Mulan. While Campbell is certainly capable in the role and his sheer size projects the strength of an army captain, because he is white he comes across as more reminiscent of John Smith than was likely intended.
The show closely follows the plot and dialogue of the Disney film and includes all the familiar songs, including the popular “Reflection.” Additional songs have successfully been integrated, and help with the pacing of the show. Most notably, “Written in Stone” is used throughout the production to emphasize the theme that our lives are not predetermined.
The production includes wonderfully detailed costumes by Richard O. Hamson, my favorite of which was worn by Hun leader Shan-Yu: a massive coat of fur that looks like something you’d want to wear on the planet Hoth. Joseph Stanley’s sets are simple, allowing room for youngsters’ imaginations to fill in the gaps. Charming techniques are used to create streams of water, a collapsing avalanche, and a fiery explosion over the first row in the audience. After the latter, children ran to the stage to swipe a souvenir; who knew confetti was such a hot commodity?
While Mulan Jr. isn’t quite as perfect (from an adult’s perspective) as its source material, anything that entertains while providing a strong message to a young audience is worthy of a family night out.