Mulan: The Musical premiered Wednesday, June 25 at The Ellen Stewart Theatre at La Mama in New York City, and if you think you know the story thanks to the Disney movie - think again.
This production, by Beijing's Red Poppy Percussion Group, is less Eddie Murphy voiced dragon and Donny Osmond sung love interest, and more intricate, synchronized drumming, authentically stylized choreography and full-color, big-screen projected vistas of China's Great Wall, an army of Fou performers and 2-D, shadow battle scenes that suggest carnage rather than blatantly showing it. (Click the Photo Gallery for a sneak preview.)
In this version, Mulan's relationship with the ailing father who trains her in Kung Fu, as well as with her schoolmates and daily life in her village takes up the first half hour of the 75 minute show, even before the Emperor's men come through demanding soldiers from every family. The audience watches Mulan train for battle, sees her unit attacked and follows along as they strike back, all to the heart-pounding rhythms of a wide variety of big and small percussion instruments.
Now, an hour and fifteen minutes of drumming would seem like about an hour too many, but the sheer scope of different sounds produced, not to mention the colorful costumes, gorgeous background images and, last but not least, the unbelievable skill and inhuman physical stamina of the performers, keeps even young viewers glued to their seats (when they're not bopping up and down or stomping their own feet).
The Red Poppy Group promises a more authentic telling of the ancient Mulan legend, and it stands to reason that they'd have better insight into the story's nuances than the Disney corporation. The show is nearly silent, conveying their tale with pantomime and dance, but there are English subtitles periodically projected onto the screen, only some of which are read out loud. In addition, having the entire troupe be composed of women (and playing all the roles, male and female) implicitly drives home the point of Mulan being an inspirational heroine to young girls in China, showing, as the program says, "Courage, Determination and whole lot of Spirit!"
Mulan is a role model who should be available to all children, and the show's pricing structure makes that affordable for NYC families. Tickets start at $25, with your first child's admission FREE, and 50% per ticket for each additional child. (Students also get a 20% discount.)
Mulan: The Musical runs through September 13, and, to celebrate its opening, the NY Frugal Family Examiner is giving away a Family 4-Pack of FREE tickets. Just email AlinaAdams@gmail.com with the subject line: Win Mulan Tickets to be entered in a drawing. Show dates are subject to availability, and winners will be notified by email.