"Disney's Mulan Jr." has all the expected trademarks of a Disney musical, from its story of a plucky youth overcoming adversity to the antics of its goofy sidekicks and the slick sound of the pop-music score. It's a sure-fire formula, and Children's Theatre Company's production does it justice. But what really sets this "Mulan" apart is the sheer sumptuous beauty of the production.
Based on the story "Fa Mulan" by Robert D. San Souci and Disney's 1998 film, the play relates the tale of a Chinese girl who resists the role her society has imposed upon her. Her rebellion is visually depicted in an early scene in which various family members, dressed in glowing and harmonious hues, demonstrate the various carefully delineated roles of men and women in this world. Mulan's sudden, noisy entrance onto the scene immediately makes this symbolic evocation of cultural disruption clashingly visual.
This disruption is magnified when marauding Huns threaten the empire. To spare her ailing father, Mulan disguises herself as a boy and joins the army. While her ancestors, depicted as immense gleaming statues, wring their hands at this shocking reversal of tradition, Mulan handily defeats the Huns, saves the empire and wins the heart of a prince.
Katie Bradley brings winning charm and a powerful singing voice to her characterization of this klutzy but determined young woman. She has hilarious fun trying on men's and women's roles as they are defined in her world, first as a simpering, overdressed would-be bride and then as a swaggering, cocky young soldier.
She's well matched by Dean Holt as the frisky, disgraced dragon Mushu, who hitches his star to Mulan's wagon in hopes of redeeming himself in the eyes of the ancestors. Another hilarious performance comes from Rose Le Tran as Mulan's earthy and exasperated grandmother.
Controversy arose earlier this year over the fact that two-thirds of this production's cast are non-Asians, and this is strikingly clear in the role of Capt. Shang. However, while Joshua James Campbell initially comes across as having wandered in off the set of "Braveheart," he gives a solid performance as the dashing, if clueless, emperor's son.
What really shines here, however, is the look -- director David Mann and CTC's design team have incorporated marvelous scenic elements into the production. Richard O. Hamson's costumes tell their own version of the story in beautifully saturated color, while Joseph Stanley's simple, elegant sets evoke imperial palaces and bleak winter wastelands with equal ease. Their talents give this brash, lively tale a glowing and luminous backdrop.
Lisa Brock writes regularly about theater.