For the family
Young cast takes the stage for Milburn Stone’s ‘Mulan Jr.’
— 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
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).
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.