by Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission
It’s that time of year and school’s out for the summer! If you have little ones running around all day (yours or otherwise), you might want to consider what Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre Court Jesters Young People’s Theatre has to offer. This year, the children’s troupe of Cockpit in Court is presenting Disney’s Mulan, Jr. with Music & Lyrics by a plethora of folks including Matthew Wilder, David Zipple, Jeanine Tesori, Alexa Junge, and even Stephen Schwartz, Additional Music & Lyrics by Bryan Louiselle and Book by Patricia Cotter. This stage production is based on, of course, the 1998 Disney film Mulan, and the story of “Fa Mulan” by Robert D. San Souci. This production is brilliantly directed by Baltimore theatre veteran Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, Choreographed by Rachel Miller, with Music Direction by Patty DeLisle.
Seriously, even if you don’t have children of whom you’re responsible, you really should check out this production of Mulan, Jr. I’m an adult and not a huge fan of what one would call children’s theatre, but I have got to admit… I was thoroughly and pleasantly impressed by what these kids and production team did with this show! From the moment I walked into the theatre and saw the set, I knew I was in for something notable. Scenic Artist Laura Miller created absolutely beautiful real life backdrops of Chinese countrysides and pink blossoms that was a refreshing break from the current trend of using projections (which I think is here to stay, like it or not). Miller hand painted each backdrop and that made it all the more impressive. Actually, the set design by Diane M. Smith was perfect and beautiful but it didn’t take away from the performance but seamlessly blended in, giving the audience a very pleasant aesthetic experience.
It takes a special kind of person to direct a show with about 40 people in the cast but it takes an extra-special person to direct a show with about 40 kids (and a few teenagers) and Liz Boyer Hunnicutt, somehow or another, managed to pull it off flawlessly… I repeat… flawlessly! Hunnicutt does have experience being the resident director of another children’s theatre that shares the space so, this was old hat for her, but still, her direction was superb. As children’s theatre goes, things can get a little hokey and silly, and Mulan Jr. had it’s share of all that, but it still kept me interested because the pace of this show did not falter once. Hunnicutt’s blocking of this huge cast was fluid and she managed to get everyone on and off the stage easily and with no major mishaps. Watching this particular production and its fluidity, I can think back on a few shows I’ve been in that were comprised of mostly or all adults and could have used the help of Hunnicutt’s guidance!
Music Director Patty DeLisle is to be commened and applauded for her work in getting this cast to sound amazing! Let’s face it, working with children and teens can be difficult at times but DeLisle managed to get these kids and teens to sound great. Of course, the cast is to be commended, as well and it seems they may not have been as difficult to work with as other casts may have been, but it seems DeLisle took her time to teach these numbers and harmonies (which can be hard even with adults) and got these kids to understand what they were singing making the performance shine.
When there’s music and singing, dancing isn’t far behind and Choreographer Rachel Miller, who doubles as Mulan, the show’s namesake and main character, seemed to know her cast and what they were capable of and every single choreographed number was pulled off brilliantly and flawlessly. Each number was tight and very well rehearsed. This production even had a very brave number where a stage full of kids were dancing and swinging bamboo sticks and, though I may not have been brave enough to attempt it, the cast pulled it off without a hitch and it was a very entertaining number!
To round out the production side, Costume Design by Sharon Byrd was very appropriate and beautifully done, managing to bring together the Asian theme of the show with flowing silk (or silk-esque) robes and matching soldier outfits that all looked like it took time to conceive and execute. Kudos goes to Byrd for her work.
Now, I’ve already stated this was a show that was enjoyable and entertaining and these kids did a bang up job of bringing the story of Mulan to life, which is no small feat being it was a successful Disney film, but these kids manage to do it brilliantly!
We first meet the Ancestors, Hong (Destiny), Laozi (Honor), Lin (Loyalty), Yun (Love), and Zhang (Strength) played by Emily Ricci, Colleen Beyer, Sophie Claudio, Olivia Lockett, and Katheryn Schudel, respectively. These young ladies start this show off with a bang and set the tempo which was absolutely perfect. Each actress said her lines with confidence and with a very mature articulation that set the tone for the entire show and it was an appropriate and started the show off with a bang.
Let me take a moment to discuss comedy. Comedy, in my opinion, is much harder to pull off than drama as I’ve always found it more difficult to make someone laugh than to make someone cry and there is a certain amount of natural, raw talent to get the timing of jokes (hokey or not) and to execute them. Athena Claudio, who plays Mushu, is one of those naturally talented people who can read a joke in the script and has that perfect amount of timing and understanding to make a joke work and throw the audience into a fit of laughter. Claudio is an absolute standout in this production and I see this young lady going very far in the theatre world! She strikes me as a triple threat as she danced, sang, and acted her way throughout the show with a maturity and natural flair. When she took the lead on the song “Keep ‘Em Guessin’, this reviewer definitely took notice.
Rachel Miller, who, as stated before, took on double duty as Choreographer, was the perfect choice to play the title role of Mulan. From her first appearance, she had a strong presence and command of the stage and a clear confident voice that belted out songs such as her torch song, “Reflection.”
Charlie Holt, as Shang, Mulan’s love interest, did a fine job as the leader of the Chinese Army (it helped that he was about a head taller than the rest of the cast) and he was comfortable in his role having a strong presence on the stage.
This review wouldn’t be complete for this particular production if I didn’t mention Dylan Morrison, Jules Einhorn, and Zachary Byrd who masterfully took on the roles of Ling, Quin-Po, and Yao respectively. These three young actors were a joy to watch and their comedic timing was on point! They had the audience in stiches, especially during their own bit of cross-dressing, but you’ll have to check out the show to see how that comes about. Notably, Zachary Byrd has a talent rare for young performers in that he is able to take a joke and run with it, regardless of whether the audience is laughing with him or at him, but I’m venturing to guess the audience is laughing with him because this young man has a confidence that allows him to act a fool on stage without hesitation and that is sometimes difficult for veteran actors and makes Byrd a standout in this production.
Though the title of this show is Mulan Jr. this is indeed an ensemble piece and each and every member gives 100% to this production. From Sarah Moscoso, who played a very intimidating and hard-nosed villain, Shan Yu to Kiara Burke who brilliantly took on the role of the old, wise Emperor, the chemistry was great and I could see that everyone was having a great time, which is so very important when it comes to community theatre. I’m looking forward to seeing the work of many of these young performers in the
If you don’t have kids of your own, grab your nieces or nephews, or your friend’s kids, or your neighbor’s kids and get to this show! You will not be disappointed and, who knows, you might even be opening the door for a budding performer or a budding theatre lover.
Final thought… this show is not to be missed!
This is what I thought of this production of Mulan, Jr.… what do you think?
Mulan Jr. will play July 10 at 1:00pm, July 12-14 at 11:00am, July 15 at 7:00pm, July 16 at 1:00 & 4:00pm, and July 17 at 1:00pm at CCBC, Essex Campus, Administration Building. For tickets, call 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.