Mulan (2010) as “Music/Dance/Drama”: a not-Musical

Poster for 2010 Version

An oddly named performance. 音乐舞剧 Yinyuewuju. MUSICAL WITH DANCE? Or (more baffling still) 大型原创歌舞剧 Daxing yuanchuang gewuju. ORIGINAL GRAND-SHOW CABARET DRAMA? More cerebral language than one usually sees on tickets. Only “East is Red” seems to have had need of this sort of lego set nomenclature: “Grand Scale” + “in-Music” + “Historical Epic”. And anyway don’t musicals (yinyueju) by definition come WITH DANCE – a legacy of the cabaret from which they sprang? (as opposed to operetta, which comes without…).

Some parsing is easy. There already had been mounted (2008?) a Mulan show categorized as yinyueju (lit. Musical); and of course the Mulan story whether on stage or in film/animation, had become almost too often “told”, becoming a kind of same old same old after the Disney corruption. So that
“original” is perhaps they key word: this is NOT just a redo. The odd insertion (redundancy?) of “dance” alerts us to the feature role of Huang Doudou, known (by now somewhat incorrectly) as a choreographer. And the “grand-scale” alerts us to a jammed jammed stage and overpowering lighting.

Yet it is still a coy self-descriptive: to exploit that hoary paradox universal in Chinese poetics: “It is music and not yet (what we know as) music”; it is dance but not yet dance; it is drama but not at the same time drama”.

Meaning in more concrete terms it is a SPECTACULAR, in the manner of a Las Vegas or Lido “show”: a meager array of solo songs (souvenirs, almost orphans, and only 2 singers); weak instrumental back up (a drum and synthesizer “continuo”); much too much background ambient sound; mind-shattering non-stop freeform martial dance overlit in primary color, disco-like, but not choreography; and storyline trajectory yet one without dialogue. Why all so self-undercut? Why so much excess? So overdone and sustained, unrelieved, unmitigated, that one loses interest even before midway? (If that far).

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