Mulan at The Children’s Theatre Company

The Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) opened a strikingly handsome staging of the now classic Disney film, Mulan, to a full house of adoring fans – some even dressed as the title character. According to director, David Mann, the script sent from Disney was void of any stage directions, so the company that is renowned for extraordinary technical karma had a blank slate to imagine and produce — except, of course, that millions of young fans have memorized the movie by now. But no matter. CTC has beautifully realized this coming-of-age story of a conflicted young girl who breaks tradition for the most noble of reasons.

It’s the sort of show that you could watch with the sound off and find it enchanting. Long swaths of colorful cloth draped from atop tall poles and rippled across the floor.  Chinese lanterns glowed, fans flipped open and snapped shut, umbrellas twirled, and the leaves shimmered from the ends of hand-held “trees.” Rich and scrumptious colors glowed under warm lighting and above red lacquer set pieces that ambulated as if they could think. The larger-than-life ancestors skimming noiselessly across the floor were quite the most fun, though, among the wizardry.

A versatile, capable and relatively smallish cast (behaving like a cast of thousands) appeared and reappeared in splendid costumes and sporting inventive props, all grounded by Katie Bradley’s charming performance as Mulan, and Dean Holt as the disgraced temple dragon, Mushu. In a gleefully cartoonish, geranium-orange costume, Holt made good fun out of it with goofy antics and a pre-softened message about the power of selflessness. Brian McCormick as Mulan’s father, Fa Zhou, wrestled the most touching emotional content out of this mostly light-hearted script. Mann was right to give us these rare, serious moments.

Unfortunately, because it’s Disney it’s more or less the same story as several other contemporary Disney animations, just set in a new locale with different costumes. The music is exactly what you’d expect in a Disney-based show. In fact, it was pretty much the same group of songs with new lyrics. Mushu’s “Keep ‘em Guessing,” for example, sounded almost exactly like Robin Williams, “Friend Like Me,” from Aladdin. The Adoring Fans didn’t care, of course; we all know the formula works.

The message (“misfit turns hero”) is a positive one, although there’s no getting around the fact that, in the end, it’s about war, fighting and defeating a wicked enemy, too. That, in spite of a wonderfully silly three-some, playing soldiers – in drag.

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