Northwestern University: ‘Ballad of Mu Lan’ is a fresh take on girl power

The ancient Chinese folk story of Mu Lan dates back to the sixth century. It has been told countless times, but none quite like the one Northwestern audiences will witness.

The Imagine U series presents “The Ballad of Mu Lan” Feb. 24 through March 6 in the Josephine Louis Theater at the Wirtz Center for Performing Arts.

Mu Lan is a young Chinese women who disguises herself as a man and joins the army to save her father’s life. Her biggest battle isn’t necessarily a physical one. Instead, her biggest fight might be with her confidence as she has a lot to learn and a lot to prove.

“Families may be familiar with Disney’s version of ‘Mu Lan,’ but this production is a very different adaptation,” said Alvin Chan, writer, director and an alumnus of Northwestern’s Master of Fine Arts program in directing. “Our version draws very heavily from a traditional Chinese theater form called Jīngjù, or Beijing opera.”

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Families may be familiar with Disney’s version of ‘Mu Lan,’ but this production is a very different adaptation.”

Alvin Chan
“This new telling of an ancient Chinese legend combines traditional Chinese theatrical techniques and contemporary music for a brand-new take on a classic story of ‘girl power.’ A central message to this production is women empowerment,” Chan said.

Colorful costumes, a vibrant set, singing, dancing and fast-paced action fill this classic story. It features an all-women, Asian American cast. And behind the scenes is an all-women design team.

“That’s something I rarely got to see when I was growing up,” said third-year theater student Kristen Waagner.

Waagner takes on two roles in the play: Huan Hu, Mu Lan’s father and Jin Yong, an army recruit and Mu Lan’s friend.

“I’m really excited for parents to bring their children and show them a wonderful cast of characters who are all complex, multifaceted and are all played by Asian American actors,” Waagner says. “It’s really great for families and there is so much laughter in the show in addition to lots of great choreography and singing.”

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