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Disney's Mulan

a Musical
CATEGORY : CHILDREN
by Adapted by Patricia Cotter

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 3675

SHOWING : February 24, 2010 - March 19, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

One girl is about to discover the hero inside of her – and in doing so, save an empire!

Embrace the adventure and magic of this exotic musical based on the animated Disney movie. The destiny of her people is in the hands of a girl who throws tradition aside to save her family and her emperor – and an upstart dragon that will show her the way.

…because heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

Rosemary Newcott, The Sally G. Tomlinson Artistic Director of Theatre for Youth, once again demonstrates her talent for understanding the rhythms and energy of Disney classics by staging Mulan in the theatrically inventive style of Aladdin and Seussical the Musical.


CAST & CREW LIST
Mulan Leslie Bellair
Qian-Po Ali Gutierrez
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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The Wings of a Butterfly
by Dedalus
Thursday, March 11, 2010
4.0
In her director’s notes for the Alliance’s production of Disney’s “Mulan,” Rosemary Newcott quotes a nice Chinese proverb:

“To attract good fortune, spend a new coin on an old friend, share an old pleasure with a new friend, and lift up the heart of a true friend by writing his [or her] name on the wings of a dragon.”

(Note Ms. Newcott’s ironic addition of “[or her]” to the proverb. More on this later.)

This is a nice starting point for any discussion of this piece, because, IMHO, “Mulan” is beautifully winged production that, if it doesn’t soar like a dragon, at least it flutters as gently and beautifully as a butterfly.

Based on the 1998 Disney animated film, “Mulan” tells the legendary story of Fa Mulan, a young woman of (according to Wikipedia) the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534), who takes her father’s place in the army to save his life. In the process, she saves the empire from the Hun invaders, restores a friendly dragon spirit to his place amongst her ancestors, and even gets the guy. Truth to tell, it’s my favorite post-“Beauty and the Beast” Disney offering (I even named our cat “Mulan”), so I was looking forward to the story getting the Alliance treatment.

And, for the most part, it’s a beautifully realized conception. An elaborately simple set, bathed in turquoises and reds, unfolds like a faux-Asian opera. Actors wield tall (15 feet?) Bunraku-esque puppets to portray the ghostly ancestors, backdrops unroll scroll-like and swiftly, and costumes shout out with their silken elegance and symbolic grace. One of the pleasures of the Disney feature was the Asian-style artwork, the simple lines and colors one would expect from a bamboo tapestry. The whole visual look of this production seems to be based on the Chinese Opera and the various theatrical tropes that evoke (at least to my Western eyes) a very Asian tale.

Centering it all is what should be a star-making performance by Leslie Bellair in the lead role of Mulan. Over the past year, I have been impressed by her work in minor roles in “The Wild Party” and “Parade,” but here she really comes into her own. Physically, she embodies the slight tomboy at the start, then grows easily into the faux-warrior awkwardness of the middle sections and truly sells the physically demanding final encounters. Toss into that a belt voice that shakes the rafters and it’s evident we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the future.

The rest of the cast all play multiple roles with aplomb, hiding behind puppets, or buried under elaborate hair styles. If they don’t exactly evoke their counterparts from the movie, they do sell the story on their own terms. In fact, one of the weaknesses of the Alliance’s “Aladdin” a few years ago was the cast attempting to impersonate the movie voices, most of which fell fairly flat. Here, though, the ensemble of Blake Covington, Alejandro Gutierrez, Bethany Irby, Bernard Jones, J.C. Long, Brandon O’Dell, and Alecia Robinson become the characters the story needs, finding a tone and an interplay that make us forget the Disney prototypes.

However, I did find the abruptness of the adaptation a bit wanting. Too many scenes were cut and too much of the spectacle of the movie was lost (though I did like the stylized avalanche scene). Too many of the “set pieces” from the film were scaled down to a pale shadow of the original (and not in the good clever-shadow-puppetry way they could have been). The clumsy encounter with the matchmaker was replaced with a contrived slapstick that made little sense, the rigorous “boot camp” number was reduced to a blandly choreographed mishmash, and the final fight was over much too quickly.

To digress along this thought a bit, I realize that children’s shows need to be brisk and come in at a little more than an hour. I sometimes wonder, though, that if kid’s movies can go longer than that, why not plays? A little more finesse in the adaption would go a long way towards filling the many narrative gaps that make this production a butterfly rather than a dragon.

Still and all, it is a beautiful, elegant butterfly. Fans of the movie will be only slightly disappointed, and those coming in with fresh eyes will be encouraged to go deeper into the story. The Alliance has, indeed, written the name of “Mulan” on the turquoise-encrusted wings of a dragon, and turned it into the gentle butterfly of this production. Judging from the size and response of the opening night crowd, good fortune will indeed follow.

-- Brad Rudy (BK Rudy)

Afternote: Oh, remember my pointing out the politically correct inclusion of “[or her]” in the proverb quoted above? The reason the irony appeals to me is because in this very Asian play done in a very Asian style, Ms. Bellair is the only cast member with a vaguely Asian appearance. What’s up with that?


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