Amidst a balmy, breezy backdrop, under a sinking sun that had lost just enough of strength, the Ramona Bowl Summer Youth Theater presented Disney’s Mulan on its expansive open-air stage on Tuesday, July 2.
The sprawling outdoor presentation of an unwieldy story of the Huns invading Han-Dynasty China by breaching the “Great Wall” would have seemed daunting enough under ideal conditions, but when you add in the wind, a slightly problematic outdoor speaker, and most importantly, 100 children, ranging in ages from 5 to 17, the task makes Sisyphus look like somebody who was just playing marbles.
“A lot of these children have never been on the stage before,” says Ramona Bowl Board President and “Mulan” producer Stacey West Bailey, adding, “but I’ve been doing this a lot of years, and you get a knack for knowing who will fit perfectly in each part.” And for perfectly, they all did.
Director/Choreographer Janet Martin is not only a Ramona Bowl grad, having starred in their first summer production 17 years ago, she is also a UCLA-credentialed teacher, and it shows. Martin was able to take newcomers, from seven-year-old Andy Ballard, who played the emperor of Japan, to Devon Young, who played Shan Yu and extract surprisingly deft performances. The cast was amazingly prepared, brilliantly inspired, and joyful, despite the heat and vibrant costumes.
Auditions were held in early May, and rehearsals-which sometimes had to be held at West Valley High School due to the heat-lasted almost a month. The result was worth all the effort.
Dara Bailey, portraying Mushu and wearing a fiery orange-red costume, would have stood out had she dressed in black and stood behind a brick wall: she sang, she danced…she threw out one-liners like a seasoned pro…and just for good measure, she tossed in some acrobatics. And as if there were enough action and acrobatics, Priscilla Hernandez flitted across the stage doing somersaults and handstands that delighted the crowd.
Amidst all this action, and a wonderful score, soared two voices and talents: Starr Loza who portrayed Mulan, and Adon Nunez portraying Captain Shang. Loza has a thin, breathy voice that threatens to falter, but never does. Instead, Loza is capable of bending the finer notes, imparting feeling in every needed corner of a song, and when she weaved her way to the final notes of “Reflection”…the audience of almost 500 was moved to tears.
In a production that never lacks for action, Adon Nunez is a stand out: he fights, he dances, he wields a fine sword, he woos the young Mulan…and he whips his young charges into shape. Nunez has a talent that craves the spotlight, and, for a young performer, he is perfectly self-possessed.
If this production is any indication of what’s to come, next year’s presentation of “Frozen” is something the summer theater-going public doesn’t want to miss.