By Rachel Breitweser ’03
With catchy songs and action-packed scenes, “Disney’s Mulan JR.” celebrated a beloved tale of Chinese culture and honor. Performances presented by Punahou middle- school students, based on the 1998 Disney film “Mulan” and the story “Fa Mulan” by Robert San Souci, captivated audiences of all ages in early November.
The humorous and heartwarming musical tells the story of Mulan, a misfit, and Mushu, her dragon sidekick, who help save the Emperor from invading Huns. Mulan disguises herself as a boy and takes up arms to spare her ailing father from having to join the army. As the battle with the Huns draws near, Mulan must decide between revealing her identity as a girl and saving China with her brilliant plan.
“The overarching theme is about perseverance, and we see that with many characters, not just Mulan. She is a heroine that saves the day, not one who waits for Prince Charming to rescue her. Many people, especially middle school students, can identify with that,” said Director Vanessa Manuel-Mazzullo, Junior School electives faculty.
Student performers shone on the stage in colorful costumes representative of the culture and time of the musical’s setting. With over 53 costumes and multiple quick changes – Mulan alone sports four different looks – the costumes were integral to fleshing out the story. Students even had a separate rehearsal for their backstage movements.
While many pieces in the Costume Shop were adapted for Mulan, countless hours went into creating new costumes, from Mushu’s elaborate scales to the warriors’ body armor.
Meticulous research shaped the designs, which started as artful renderings. Some of the garments were previously sourced from the Honolulu Museum of Art’s collection. “It was nice that students were able to wear genuine vintage garments,” said Dvorah Neubauer, who led the costume design for the production.