Monday, February 1, 2010

The Song (or Whatever) of Mulan

Posted by Bruce Miller
Every time I think of The Song of Mulan, I remember what happened eight years ago when we first contracted Paul Deiss to create the show for our touring operation. Schools were crying out for a fun way to support the new SOLs on ancient China, and the epic poem about the young girl who went to war to save her nation from the Mongol (Tartar) horde definitely fit the bill.

It had everything--an inspiring story that illuminates authentic history, a classic work of Chinese literature, and the name recognition that could come only from a recent Disney adaptation.

Paul wrote a beautiful script and score, and when the tour first went on the road, the Richmond Times-Dispatch covered the opening. This was back in the days when we could still get some ink for the arts. There was a beautiful color photo and a sizable caption, all surrounding a prominent headline that proudly proclaimed "Theatre IV Opens The Fish of Mulan."

That's what it said, my friends. We never knew why, but somehow someone in the newsroom changed the title of the play from The Song of Mulan (the actual title of the epic poem, sometimes translated as The Ballad of Mulan) to The Fish of Mulan.

It didn't matter. Then as now, all PR was good PR.

That first tour went so well under Susan Sanford's expert direction, that we soon commissioned Paul to expand his musical into two acts for a mainstage production. Susan again served as director/choreographer, and the show again earned raves from audiences, educators, and critics alike.

Mercedes Schaum created the magnificent sets; Jason Bishop designed a brigade of handsome, authentic costumes; and Steve Koehler worked his usual magic with lights. (Lynne Hartman takes on the lighting responsibilities this time out.)

Now that it's time to revive this Theatre IV favorite, how fortunate we are to have been able to reassemble several members of the original team. (In terms of costumes, Jason has moved to New York, but we have been able to retrieve all his original garments.) Susan Sanford long ago moved to Los Angeles to pursue new career opportunities with her husband, Foster Solomon. But thanks to funding from the Louise Moon Fund, we were able to bring her back to town--a blessing for one and all.

The Louise Moon Fund was created in the late 1990s, shortly before Mrs. Moon died. Throughout her life, she had been a great supporter of the arts. She was on the founding committee of the Richmond Symphony, and she had a long history of support for both Theatre IV and Barksdale.

Before our two nonprofit companies began our strategic partnership in 2001, we worked together to establish the Louise Moon Fund in Mrs. Moon's honor. The fund enabled Barksdale and Theatre IV to bring back to Richmond outstanding theatre artists who had moved on to larger markets. Mrs. Moon had fallen in love this idea after we brought her son, John, back from NYC following his earning his masters in directing from Columbia and his subsequent work with Joseph Papp's Public Theatre.

Susan is only the most recent artist to return due in part to the largesse of Mrs. Moon and her friends.

We have a great new cast for Mulan this year. The titular role is played by Yvonne Samé, recently from the cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Her mother and father are played by Hannah Zold and Jason Marks. Mulan's romantic interest is portrayed by Chris Stewart. Lucas Hall, Audra Honaker, Paul Major and Durron Tyre all provide admirable support in a variety of roles.

If you haven't been out to see this wonderful show, please head on down to Theatre IV's historic Empire Theatre. We'd love to have you join us on our return visit to all the wonders of ancient China.

--Bruce Miller

(Note on the images: Whether she is allegorical or real, the character of Mulan has inspired countless works of Chinese art, several examples of which are pictured. First is a painting on silk, then a wooden carving, followed by the oldest surviving copy of the epic poem, circa 1200, found in the British Museum. The original poem dates from the 6th century. Last is a porcelain vase.)


Bruce Miller said...

Thanks to Steve Koehler and Susan Sanford for politely correcting a mistake I made in the original post. Steve designed the wonderful lights for our first Mulan, and Lynne designed the current revival. One of my favorite lighting moments, which I remember vividly from the first production, is the lighting of the yellow river, where both the painted river and the "live" silk river absolutely glow. Thanks to both Steve and Lynne for the two different productions.

Jody Strickler said...

I loved it all... the lightning, the look, the acting, the story... It was beautiful... So GLAD I got a chance to see it. Bring it back soon!
(And yes, the glowing Yellow River(s) were magic!