For the fam­ily

Young cast takes the stage for Mil­burn Stone’s ‘Mu­lan Jr.’

Cecil Whig - - JUMPSTART - By JOE ANTOSHAK

jan­toshak@ches­pub.com

— Dur­ing a dress re­hearsal for Dis­ney’s “Mu­lan Jr.” this week, a glass vase slipped from some­one’s hands and shat­tered on the stage. Sev­eral of the younger cast mem­bers formed ‘oh’s’ with their mouths, as if to ac­knowl­edge the bad thing that had hap­pened, but all of them kept per­form­ing for the few sec­onds be­fore pro­duc­tion called a hold to clean up the mess.

It was a mis­take, no doubt, but it was also a re­minder of

NORTH EAST

what makes this mu­si­cal so good, and what will al­most cer­tainly make it great dur­ing its run at Mil­burn Stone Theatre this week­end — the young, dis­arm­ingly hon­est, tremen­dously skilled ac­tors and ac­tresses.

“Mu­lan Jr.” is based on Dis­ney’s Os­car-nom­i­nated an­i­mated film “Mu­lan,” (1998), but it’s short­ened from that ver­sion and de­signed to en­ter­tain a younger, fam­ily­based au­di­ence. It re­tains its strong moral foun­da­tion: that judg­ments of an in­di­vid­ual should be based on qual­i­ties other than a per­son’s sex. More specif­i­cally, it’s a play about fe­male em­pow­er­ment and tear­ing down pa­tri­ar­chal struc­tures of the past.

It’s an im­por­tant life les­son, and, fit­tingly, al­most all of the 34 cast and en­sem­ble mem­bers in Mil­burn Stone’s up­com­ing pro­duc­tion are un­der the age of 18.

That youth­ful­ness lends a spe­cial en­ergy to the show, and ac­cord­ing to 42-year-old di­rec­tor Dane Hutchin­son, there’s a good mix of ex­pe­ri­ence in the cast. Some of the ac­tors and ac­tresses have per­formed in plays at Mil­burn Stone and else­where; others are brand new to the stage.

“It’s awe­some to watch these kids go from be­ing ner­vous at the start of re- hearsal, not be­ing able to sing on-stage, to go on to sing solo parts up there,” Hutchin­son said.

For him, the Mil­burn Stone stage is no stranger. In ad­di­tion to hav­ing di­rected shows in years past, he played the char­ac­ter Scut­tle in the theater’s spring pro­duc­tion of Dis­ney’s “The Lit­tle Mer­maid.”

He joked about ac­cept­ing the of­fer to di­rect this play so shortly af­ter: “I was just in that Dis­ney state of mind.”

Hutchin­son, whose day job is work­ing with kids in af­ter-school pro­grams, said the cast and pro­duc­tion team have been re­fin­ing the play for about three months — a fairly long time con­sid­er­ing that “Mu­lan Jr.” has a run­time right around an hour. Due to fam­ily va­ca­tions, there were stretches where the group could not get to­gether and re­hearse.

The months haven’t been a chore for Hutchin­son, who said he loves work­ing with the kids. Not only is he con­sis­tently im­pressed by their poise and abil­ity, but he’s en­joyed watch­ing them grow. He re­counted one re­cent mem­ory in which one of the cast mem­bers — he wouldn’t name him or her — ex­pressed a bud­ding pas­sion.

“‘This is my first show ever — I think I should do more,’” Hutchin­son re­mem­bered the child say­ing. “For an 8-year-old to come up to me and say that is some­thing pretty spe­cial.”

“Mu­lan Jr.” runs this week­end with per­for­mances Fri­day at 8 p.m., Satur­day at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sun­day at 3 p.m. Tick­ets can be pur­chased at mil­burn­stone.com or at the door — $18 for adults, $15 for stu­dents or se­niors (55+) and $10 for chil­dren (12 and un­der).

CECIL WHIG PHO­TOS BY JOE ANTOSHAK

Sev­eral of the more prom­i­nent char­ac­ters in “Mu­lan Jr.”, in­clud­ing Mu­lan her­self (cen­ter-left, played by Ade­line Cho), dance dur­ing a scene in a re­hearsal of the play on Tues­day.

Dane Hutchin­son, the 42-yearold di­rec­tor and Elk­ton res­i­dent, sits down for a few words dur­ing the in­ter­mis­sion of the run-through on Tues­day.

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