Imagination Stage tells the tale of China’s legendary warrior, Mu Lan, (Hua Mulan,) with humor and energy and introduces audiences to a delightful version of the performance style known as Peking opera.
Touring productions of the China National Peking Opera Company have introduced the world to Peking opera’s beautiful music, glorious costumes and a formal, stylized acting form.
Likewise, this is a lovely show to look at, with vibrant costumes, set off by a primarily red set. With red lanterns above, a plush red carpet, hanging drapes and multimedia video projections, you’re forgiven if your attention wanders from the actors at times.
As Mu Lan, Justine “Icy” Morals is sprightly and determined and her Mu Lan is not afraid to break with centuries-old gender traditions that kept girls at home. Disguised at first as a boy, she becomes a cadet in the Emperor’s army, and leads a ragtag group (nicknamed the Useless!) to defeat China’s enemy and becomes a hero.
The Ballad of Mu Lan from Imagination Stage closes August 11, 2019. Details and tickets
Many scenes in The Ballad of Mu Lan have spoken dialogue mixed with patter-like songs, and a great deal of pantomimed action, dance, and acrobatics. It’s completely understandable for even the smallest patrons. The fight scenes are done with lighthearted humor- and, it should be noted, the villainous Xi Xia ( the delightfully diabolical Daniel Glenn Westbrook) doesn’t die- he just gets stylishly vanquished and runs off in humiliation.
Director Alvin Chan is also the writer (a likeable, funny script) and costume designer. No fight or dance credit is given, but considering that it’s part and parcel of the show, no doubt he had a hand in that as well. The costumes are beautifully done, with a nod to both historical accuracy (it’s set in the 4th century China); the young Emperor (Rafael Sebastian) wears a magnificent robe with an entire dragon winding round the body, and his Advisor (a Uriah Heap-like Daniel Glen Westbrook) has a long white beard suspended by ear wires in the ‘old man’ attire of Peking opera.
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Matthew Mazzella’s music accomplishes a difficult feat: setting poetry and declarations to music, with hints of Chinese traditional tonal changes throughout. Mazzella himself plays traditional music throughout, with lots of fun sound effects.
At an hour and a half with an intermission, the show can get a bit long for even the older kids, but the humor that intertwines the scenes always brings you back to the action onstage. And gee, those fight scenes are fun, with lots of somersaults, high kicks, and pratfalls!
This is a fine afternoon out for older kids and their younger siblings- and though many in the audience were of the small female gender, it’s a good show for boys as well- after all, everyone needs to know that long-held traditions need to be looked at carefully these days.
The Ballad of Mu Lan . Written and Directed by Alvin Chan . Cast: Matthew Mazzella, Jordan Moral, Justine “Icy” Moral; Andres Alejandro Ponce; Rafael Sebastian; Ryan Sellers; Daniel Glenn Westbrook; Jacob Yeh . Music Director and Composer Matthew Mazzella . Costumes: Alvin Chan . Scenic Design: Joseph D Dodd . Lighting Design: Zachary Gilbert . Sound Design/Video Technician: Robert Pike . Video Designer: Chesley Cannon . Musical Consultant: Jeffrey Song . Stage Manager: Julia Singer Produced by Imagination Stage and Honolulu Theatre for Youth . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.