reviewed by Candice Hattori
Most of us are familiar with Disney’s 1998 animated hit film “Mulan”, which showed Mulan as a fierce female warrior from ancient China who dressed as a male to take her elderly father’s place to fight for the Emperor. You might not be as familiar with the actual history behind the story, however. I myself had never researched to learn about the source of the story of Mulan before, but when I heard that Hawaiʻi’s very own Honolulu Theatre for Youth would be putting on a play called “The Ballad of Mu Lan”, and that I would get a chance to see it with my own keiki, then I knew it was time to do a little digging in preparation.
First off, I could tell by the title of this HTY (Honolulu Theatre for Youth) show that this was not going to be a Disney version of the story, and I was glad to be honest. As fun as Disney shows can be I want my children to be aware of the original source material, and of the many other versions that are out there for the popular stories that exist in our world. This story was originally told in the form of a folk song, and this is the reason for the title “The Ballad of Mu Lan”.
Here is a web address to view an English language translation of the Ballad of Mu Lan so you can check it out for yourself :).
The creative folks at HTY have always been so great at adapting stories into performances that can grab and keep the attention younger children, and their version of The Ballad of Mu Lan is a perfect example of this skill of theirs. Here is a list of some of the ways HTY is so smart with their plays, and why I recommend that you take your family to see The Ballad of Mu Lan:
- The show opened on Saturday, August 26th, and will run on Saturdays at 4:30 pm through September 30th. Mid-afternoon on a Saturday it’s such a great day and time for young ones to see a play! For one, it’s not a school day, and for two, 4:30 pm a sweet spot for young ones. Neither too early nor too late, a 4:30 pm show that lasts approximately one hour leaves plenty of time for morning activities to occur first, and then you can come and see the play, and still have plenty of time for dinner, and winding down, and a getting decent bedtime afterward.
- HTY plays are held at Tenney Theater at 229 Queen Emma Square, a convenient space on the edge of downtown Honolulu, right next to St. Andrew’s Cathedral. On Saturdays, HTY patrons can park for free in the lot directly in front of the theater, and when my family and I went there this past Saturday we had no trouble finding a parking spot there even though we arrived a little bit later than 4:30 pm.
- Getting into the theatre is easy! It’s a quick walk from the parking spaces to the entrance of the theater, and as soon as you step inside the building the theater space and seating is basically right there. No long treks to get to the show itself, which is nice when you’re attending with some potentially antsy kids :).
- The stage was beautifully set in Chinese-style decor, and the whole theater was awash in a soft red glow thanks to the red lanterns that were hanging from the ceiling all around. The lanterns were a very pretty and a very smart touch because not only were they wonderful to look at, but they provided a nice, calm, low light at all times, helping to avoid possible sensory issues for some, avoid fears of the dark that bigger theaters may present, and avoid potential light-related safety hazards should one need to leave their seat suddenly during the show (potty break, anyone?).
- HTY seems to often use a small number of performers, and seems to limit the amount of set pieces they use onstage. I think this approach works great with audiences that include young kids because they get to focus less on the technical details of the performance and more on the story being told and the imagination it brings about instead. I counted only five onstage performers in HTY’s The Ballad of Mulan – 4 actors and 1 musician – but when I asked my 4-year-old daughter how many different actors did she see in the play she counted past 8, so obviously the costume changes and the acting all worked :). And I thought it was very clever the way that the show creators used video displayed on a cool round framed screen in the center of the stage to help enhance and tell the story. I’m sure there is a fine line between video adding-to or distracting-from play onstage, but in this case I definitely felt it worked and added to the story without taking anything away.
- This HTY adaptation of the Ballad of Mu Lan hit all the right notes with my 4-year-old daughter and with the other children I was observing around me in the audience. The actors got the kids’ attention with their expressions, their volume, and their enunciation with the way that they delivered their lines. The musical accompaniment accentuated the comedy of each scene and made me feel like we were in a live-action cartoon in the most fun kind of way. And of course, the physical aspects of the performances captured tons attention as well! This show is full of so many fun physical jokes, pratfalls, and exciting fight scenes (that are NOT violent in my opinion, just fun) that you just know these performers had to practice a lot to get as coordinated as they got doing the actual performance. There were jokes that got my kid rolling with laughter, and I haven’t seen her pay this much attention during any performance in a very long time.
- Thought was also put into the little things outside of the show itself. Out in front there was a snack table with a nice array of items available at a reasonable one dollar apiece, and there were free paper cones for ice cold ice water available as well. Inside there were programs available, and also booster seats for smaller kids to have a chance at seeing the stage a little bit better if so desired. Outside there were also brochures with information about HTY’s other upcoming shows, and there was Ballad of Mu Lan photo prop available to take pictures with so of course I picked it up and had to snap a few selfies with it and with my Little One and I. We had a great time from start to finish, and I highly recommend for all Hawaiʻi families to come and see The Ballad of Mulan with HTY.
Many thanks go out to MomsInHawaii.com and to everyone at the Honolulu Theatre for Youth for giving my family and I the opportunity to experience such fun performance! Seeing this show made me realize that it has been far too long since I last took my youngest daughter to a play created with children her age in mind. I definitely plan to add MORE HTY performances to our Calendar from now on! 🙂
To receive a Moms In Hawaii discount, use code MOMS.