Mulan the Musical, the new Chinese musical comedy staged at Resorts World Sentosa, is a 2-hour stage play originally from Taiwan that promised to keep you thinking, humming and laughing throughout. I attended the preview on 13 December to put this claim to a tickle test.
You’re probably familiar with the character Mulan whether it’s a story from childhood, in class or from the 1998 Disney movie: Ancient China. Out of filial piety, Mulan secretly takes the place of her ailing father to join the army. She manages to hide her gender, defeats the enemy and returns home in glory.
Mulan The Musical is slightly different.
In this staging, Mulan (played by Lee Chien-Na) is reluctant–even angry–that she is told to take her father’s place in the army. After some convincing by the village women, she agrees. [Editor’s note: Kanny Lai takes over the role of Mulan from 16 January 2017.]
In camp, she takes the identity of “Munan”, a more masculine name than her original. She does manage to hide her identity with some hilarious consequences–her childhood sweetheart and General (played by Chou Ting-Wei) both fall in love with “Munan”. In the end, though Mulan/Munan does defeat the enemy, it comes with a heavy price which you’ll find out in the show.
When the show was first staged in Taiwan in 2009, it received critical acclaim and was moved to the bigger stage at National Theatre in Taipei in 2011.
The cast and production crew are from Taiwan, with the exception of local celebrities Ann Kok who plays Mulan’s sister Mulian and Pierre Png who plays the army captain who goes by the name of Encik.
Where’s the funny?
I enjoyed myself throughout the show. Though I knew Mulan’s backstory, the show’s addition of family drama, army matters and espionage made it less predictable–a good thing for an old tale.
One of the funnier scenes is at the early part of the show when Mulan was still against going to the army.
In an elaborate dance and musical number, the women in the village show Mulan how repetitive and unappreciated life as a woman can be if she stayed. This pushed her to finally join the army.
The scene with the most laughs was the army introduction song “It’s a Man’s World”. It opens with a loud profanity, shocking the audience into laughter.
But it wasn’t just the shock factor that made people laugh out of surprise. The choreograph of the Five Bullies (led by Pierre Png’s “Encik” character) and the army recruits mirror the lyrics well and continues to be funny till the end.
The show’s not just about song and dance. In a cheeky/flirty duet, Mulan and the General sing about picking up soap (a sexual innuendo, if you’re unfamiliar). By the second chorus, I can’t help but hum along.
Overall, for a show that is labelled as a romantic comedy, I find an equal serving of comedy, romance and even sadness.
The first act is funnier as we’re introduced to some of the more flamboyant characters. In the second, things get more serious as the army goes to war with the Turks. The show ends on a bittersweet note with Mulan deciding to choose her own fate.
Who to look out for
Lee Chien-Na’s Mulan is playful and flirty. Chou Ting-Wei’s General shows off his vocal capabilities well. They can hold their tunes and have great chemistry on stage.
However, it’s the side characters who steal the scene.
One of the stand-out comedic characters is a chubby recruit who becomes friends with Munan. His over-the-top femininity and funny songs won him fans as I heard people still talking about him when the show ended.
Mulan’s childhood sweetheart Guanfu is also someone to look out for. You can’t help but root for him when it comes to the love rivalry between him and the General. He’s also the reason for the show’s bittersweet ending.
I was excited to see Ann Kok and Pierre Png’s performance in the musical. I wanted to see how well they blend into the show.
The local performers did pretty well and shone as comic relief. Ann Kok’s character Mulain does a sexy mating dance when she introduces herself to the General. Though it happens a little too often for my taste, it doesn’t get old with the audience.
For Pierre Png fans, keep your eyes peeled for a scene where he “accidentally” moons the audience. This scene was received with much appreciative laughter from the seats.
Harder to appreciate for non-Mandarin speakers
Although the show does have surtitles for dialogue and song on two screens next to the stage, a lot of the humour is lost in translation. For example a colloquial term for “sweetheart” is translated to “sweet pony”. Some of the song lyrics flash too fast to catch.
Also, if you need the help of surtitles, it’s best sit in the middle row, so you can get a view of the TV screen and the action on stage.
Mulan The Musical is funny and heartwarming. Even if you think you know Mulan’s story, this retelling will keep you on the edge of your seat and rocking in laughter.
Do note that for those who don’t understand Mandarin, it might be harder to appreciate the humour.
Catch Mulan the Musical at Resorts World Theatre from 16 December 2016 to 5 February 2017 (selected nights).
Tickets from $38 to $128 (excluding booking charges). Get them at SISTIC or Resorts World Theatre.
members get 30% discount for Cat 1 – 3 tickets.
Check out our Mulan The Musical blog posts