Theater review: The Red Poppy Ladies: Mulan the Musical. At The Peter Jay Sharp Theater. Created and performed by Red Poppy Ladies’ Percussion. 1hr 20mins. No intermission.
In the ancient Chinese legend of Mulan, a brave girl poses as a boy in order to take her ailing father’s place in the army. So it’s fitting that the Red Poppy Ladies—China’s first and only all-female percussion troupe—share her heroic tale, since even in the West, drumming is still often thought of as a male pursuit.
But putting aside the nifty feminist implications, Red Poppy is, essentially, a novelty act: A dozen young, nubile girls in attractive outfits who really know how to bang a gong—not to mention tables, drums, the floor, pretty much anything. They’re impressive percussionists, effortlessly executing tightly choreographed routines peppered with kung fu, their limbs flying so fast they look like Kali.
As cultural spectacle, Mulan is satisfying entertainment. As a musical, it misses the mark. There are no traditional songs, no dialogue and no real characterizations, and production values are poor. If not for the title and the captions projected onto the back wall, you’d never know this was the story of Mulan. Heck, you wouldn’t know there was a story at all. (Those who know the tale from the Disney movie will surely be confused.) Mulan is a figure who always marched to the beat of her own drum, and here she gets to do that literally. Too bad her rhythm never really gets you.—Raven Snook