‘Mulan Jr – the musical’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by March 9, 2018

‘Mulan Jr.’ is usually a one-act, one hour stage musical based on the 1998 animated Disney movie ‘Mulan’. Because of the lower age group of the anticipated audience, this company are making it two, half-hour acts with a short interval.

The storyline was written by Robert D. Sans Souci, being based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan and the story ‘Fa Mulan’. With music and lyrics added by Matthew Wilder, David Zippel, Stephen Schwartz, Jeanine Tesori, and Alexa Junge.

This Phoenix Theatre Inc. Production can be seen at the Phoenix Theatre within the Memorial Hall, 435 Carrington Street at the corner of Rockingham Road, Hamilton Hill, with performances each Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8.00 pm until the 24th March. Some Saturdays have both a matinée at 2.00 and an evening performance.

The show is approximately 80 minutes, including a brief intermission.

With a cast of about two dozen children, between the ages of 8 and 18, it is suitable for even the youngest of children.

 

The scene setting begins as soon as you enter the theatre’s foyer, from the glowing, pink cherry trees, to the large ancient Chinese knotted symbols. There are oriental room dividers; one screen has dozens of colourful fans, each with a picture of a cast member. Even the tea bar was draped with beautiful silk curtains.

On stage, at the rear is a high dais backed with a trellis work and a beautifully painted oriental scene (artwork by Silvana Ferguson). The stage apron had a catwalk on each side leading into the auditorium, forming a horseshoe shape. The set construction was by Daniel, Kerron and Brett Muller, Aubrey Cason, Mark Foster and Guy Jackson.

With such a large cast to handle, Production Manager Em Rose and her Stage Manager Guy Jackson had their hands full, but the numerous, complex entrances and exits flowed perfectly, with no build-up of the large cast in the wings. Very well done.

The complex lighting was colourful and well thought out by Brett Muller on this his first show as designer and operator. The sound operator was Chris Heindl who had the headsets operating perfectly, and the pre-recorded music cued correctly.

 

         The curtain opens to show the Fa Family Ancestors, who are representing the family’s qualities. They are Laozi – honour (Laura Foster), Lin – loyalty (Kika Van Wilde), Zhang – strength (Lara Wood), Hong – destiny (Giorjia O’Dea), and Yun – love (Lowri Bishop). They are joined by Grandmother Fa (Sarah Cosgriff) and sing of how unfortunately the laws of the land are set in stone.

       The Fa’s young daughter, the clumsy Mulan Fa (Ebony Uetake) is sent to meet the village Matchmaker (Mia Brogden) for assessment as a potential bride. Mulan’s father, Fa Zhou (Evan Bishop) has been injured and is disabled, so walks with a stick. Mother Fa Li (Ella John) prays to the family ancestors that she will get Mulan a good match, but true to form, Mulan ruins her marriage ceremony, thus bringing dishonour on the family.

     When the Huns invade China, her disabled father, Fa Zhou is then conscripted into the army by Chi Fu (Daniella Torres). Mulan therefore disguises herself as a boy and steals her father’s helmet and sword in order to run away from home and take his place in the army. He is proud of her, but if she is caught she will be killed.

       The Fa Family ancestors call upon the red dragon, Mushu (Jacob Clayton), who is a demoted family guardian, to stop Mulan before she is killed for her impersonation.

       When Mulan arrives at Military training, she introduces herself as “Ping” and undergoes training with Yao (David Bell), Ling (Mason Cailes-Spence), and Qian-Po (Ffion Bishop) under the supervision of a Chinese army captain, Shang (Edzelle Abrio). The soldiers go to a mountain village, to help protect it from the Huns, but the village has already been destroyed.

       Will Mulan be able to help? If she is caught, will she be killed or will The Emperor (Harrison Ricci) save her?

 

It is a little unfair to call the remaining cast ‘The Ensemble’ as the quality of their singing and movement was first class. Well done Lexi Baggaley, James Leber, Luna Har Paz, Sade Oyasope, Delainie Young, RJ Calton (wow), Sienna Law and Zoe Bartle.

 

In this youth production, Director Jayde Clark – who has been with Phoenix for several years – has gathered a sensational cast. Every single actor gave the show every scrap of energy. There were no ‘lost’ performers, looking around for guidance or following the movements a couple of beats behind. Instead, during the quite complex dance routines, they all moved in perfect sync. And they all seemed to be enjoying themselves. Most impressive.

Ryan S. McNally, the Dark Vision make-up artist, captured the wild zany personality of Mushu, with his bright red face and hair, with added glitter and bright blue eyes.

The costumes, designed by Jayde Clark and Sarah Brookes, were amazing. From a wonderful selection of silk oriental dresses, to the dozens of soldier costumes thanks to the team of seamstresses, Emma Foster, Trixie Gaynor, Simone Uetake and Shivaugn Bartle.With around two-dozen numbers to perform, Vocal Coach, Samantha Ferguson had to work hard. The pre-recorded backing track was lively and well-produced, but they can be unrelenting should a singer miss a beat – in this show every single performers was perfectly focused.

Rachel Vonk (Choreographer) was inventive, developing different genres of dance for the different groups of characters. The soldiers had tricky hand and arm movements, combined with a ‘stomp’ foot action; whilst the graceful, beautifully dressed Chinese ladies swayed and floated around the stage.

This show bounces along beautifully. Plenty of energy with great singing and dancing, a treat for all from 4 to 104 yrs.