El Dorado Musical Theatre Production of Mulan

Disney’s Mulan Jr.
A Rising Stars Production

Featuring performers ages 6-14

This show is rated G

Music and Lyrics by Matthew Wilder, David Zippel, Stephen Schwartz, Jeanine Tesori and Alexa Junge
Music Adapted and Arranged and Additional Music and Lyrics by Bryan Louiselle
Book Adapted and Additional Lyrics by Patricia Cotter
Based on the 1998 Disney film Mulan and the story Fa Mulan by Robert D. San Souci

July 10-19, 2015
Harris Center at Folsom Lake College

Director: Debbie Wilson
Choreographer: Kat Bahry
Vocal Director: Samantha Arrasmith
Costumer: Christine Martorana

Theatrical Review – Disney’s Mulan Jr.

By Dick Franztreb

El Dorado Musical Theatre’s production of Disney’s Mulan Jr. opened last night at Harris Center. I hadn’t seen the 1998 movie that inspired the musical, though I had a vague idea of the plot. I did know that this was a “Rising Stars” production — with performers ranging in age from 6 to 14 (8th grade). And even though these shows involve younger actors than EDMT’s other musicals, I’ve always found them delightful. What I wasn’t prepared for was to be dazzled as I was last night.
For a start, the show was a masterpiece of stagecraft. The objective was to create a credible, sustained image of ancient China, and that succeeded brilliantly. It all started with the costumes and make-up, designed by a true genius of this craft, costumer Christine Martorana. The wigs alone were individual works of art, and with their help and the facial make-up, young children were transformed into believable characters from some far-distant dynasty. It seemed like every costume (of the 70 actors) was different — and highly realistic. There was beautiful silk (or silk look-alike) in abundance. It was all so colorful.

And what added to the color were the projections on the screen at the back of the stage. Not only was there a great variety in them and not only were they very evocative of ancient China, but they employed a technique I had never seen before. The image “grew” as if being rapidly painted on the spot, with broad strokes. It was mesmerizing during the few seconds the image was being compiled, all a tribute to the growing skill and creativity of Projection Designer, Zach Wilson.

The show itself is a fun one. It’s fast-moving. The music is surprisingly good, even memorable. The dialog is well-written and full of clever moments. I’d say the themes themselves are substantial: a questioning of unnecessarily limiting gender roles, and an examination of what really constitutes “honor.” Most importantly, this would be an inspiring, even empowering, story for young girls. And I couldn’t help but think how it reinforced the example of the recent world championship of the US Women’s Soccer Team. On a less serious note, the whole premise of a girl passing herself off as a man leads to wonderfully funny moments when young boys (and a few girls in character) try to act like men. It gets even funnier when these same boys try to disguise themselves as women.

The choreography in this “Rising Stars” production was obviously not as complex as the dance numbers in EDMT shows for older performers, but it was no less creative — and often elaborate and even fascinating – enhanced in many numbers by props such as umbrellas, rhythmic gymnastics ribbons, and other paraphernalia for which I don’t have a name. The first big number “Written in Stone” was simply eye-popping. “Keep’em Guessin’” was another with especially cute, jazzy dancing that was an audience favorite. And since I’ve mentioned props, the appearance of the one-person horses, the elephant, and the 5-person Chinese dragon were audience-pleasing moments.

Throughout the show I heard surprisingly good ensemble singing. As for the individual singers, they had what were clearly young voices, but with good pitch and projection. I saw the Dragon Cast in which the title role of Fa Mulan was played by Kelsey Fairchild. In one of her songs, I wrote in my notes that “She has the voice of an angel” — though the requirement of her character was such that not all her singing was angelic (though it was consistently good). Equally good was Kelsey’s acting, as was that of nearly all the principals. I was often impressed with their timing, their emphasis, and the naturalness of their gestures and body language. I would expect the same from Firework Cast, including Emily Fritz in the role of Fa Mulan.

It seems that there are one or two fundamentally comic characters in all these Disney musicals. One in this show was Mushu the dragon, played by Nick Ribadeneira. It was a chance for a young actor to cut loose and really have fun with a little over-acting. Nick took full advantage of the opportunity, and he was an audience favorite from the start. At one point, Nick’s appealing personality just stole the show completely, and earned spontaneous applause after an extended and especially clever verbal riff.

Another endearing comic character was Grandmother Fa, played in the Dragon Cast by Miranda Garver. She seemed to be about half as tall as all the other actors, but had the best (funniest) lines, always delivered with an impish smile that by itself would make one laugh. Nick Ribadeneira plays Mushu in both casts, but I notice that his sister, Maya, plays Grandmother Fa in the Firework cast. She was such a delightfully comic character as the Monkey King in last year’s Jungle Book, that I’m sure she’d be as much fun to watch as Miranda Garver was in the Dragon Cast.

Let’s not underestimate any of those 70 kids on the stage. It seemed to me that there were many occasions for an actor to have one moment in the spotlight to deliver a clever line or demonstrate some talent — there was a solo dance number and even a brief tumbling routine. All these added to the richness of the production. But often my attention would wander to the (usually younger) children who were part of the company. Lapses of concentration among them were rare. What was amazing — even endearing — was how accurately they all performed, getting to their spot and going through their moves or singing their lines as planned. When the house lights went down and the curtain opened, they were no longer children, but actors, singers and dancers, and the transformation was apparent in their stage presence and the confidence and joy that seemed to build in them as the show proceeded. There is nothing fatuous about children participating in the performing arts like this. Discipline, confidence, cooperation, character, pride, etc. are built on the stage as much — perhaps even more — than on the sports field. And sitting in the audience watching these kids isn’t just an entertaining experience; it’s an inspiring one.

Let’s review. I’ve given you many reasons to see this show for yourself: an uplifting story, quality music, good singing — and acting and dancing, masterful stagecraft, and 70 young sources of inspiration. This show has an unusually short run. What are you waiting for?

Mulan cast list