Work began on the J. Taylor Finley Middle School drama club’s production of Mulan Jr. last November. Little by little the spectacular show took shape, culminating in a series of exceptional performances before the largest crowds in memory.
“The kids did a fantastic job,” Huntington Superintendent James W. Polansky said. “The talent on stage was unparalleled. Simply a pleasure to watch and so many hysterical scenes! Congratulations to all on a job well done. The future of Huntington theater remains bright.”
Guided by Finley teacher and drama club advisor Gina Marie Trigian-Molvaut, the seventh and eighth graders whonworked on the show behind the scenes and starred on the stage all earned rave reviews.
Finley drama club advisor Gina Marie Trigian-Molvaut. (Darin Reed photo.)
“Clearly, all members of the cast and crew made an incredible effort to realize this vision of Mulan’s journey,” Ms. Molvaut said. “Through our production experience we learned that with commitment to each other, a lot of hard work and perseverance through and through that we could reach our goal to be the best we could be for our two performances. I am so proud of the Finley drama club members for their outstanding production of Mulan Jr.”
The play’s vocalists were coached by Huntington High School choir director Victoria Garbarino. Finley music teacher Daniel Santangelo oversaw stage crew members Jack Alba, Aydan Bachman, Hannah Byers, Annika Galvin, James Kretschmer, Katie Nunez, Leda Reldon and Emma Waters. Huntington junior Andy Ulloa assisted as the play’s student director.
“The students should be proud of the production of Mulan Jr. they staged as should Madame Molvaut, Ms. Garbarino and Mr. Santangelo,” said Eric Reynolds, district director of fine and performing arts. “Throughout the show, the cast and crew were shining stars on stage and behind the scenes. After seeing this show, I cannot help but be excited to see these same students on the Huntington High School stage in a year or two. Congratulations to all involved.”
The Finley drama club’s actors were sensational during the Friday and Saturday night performances.
Highlights of the production included:
• The impressive opening prologue in the temple with full cast choreography, including fathers, mothers, sons and daughters and soldiers holding scrolls symbolizing honor, strength, destiny, loyalty and love “written in stone.”
• The maiden dance where Mulan gets her makeover. Christina Drummings, Danielle Mendikyan, Katerina Damiano, Emily Gurshuny, Nadeera Ali, Morgan Colleluori, Linnea Wong, Isabella Lanfranco and Kayla Fives all utilized beautiful fans that evoked the pedals of a flower as Mulan stepped out of her makeover transformed into a maiden.
• The powerful and important matchmaker was played in fine fashion by Delia Caruso, whose negative evaluation of Mulan’s qualities as a future bride not only led to the Fa family’s initial dishonor, but also influenced the young girl’s decision to take her destiny into her own hands.
• The touching family scenes at the beginning and at the end of the play, portrayed by Ally Kustera as Mulan, Josh Youngquist as Fa Zhou, Alexis Kaloudis as Fa Li and the quite “sassy” Angie Hernandez-Ramos as the Grandma Fa.
• The incredibly strong interpretation of Mulan’s inner struggle as a young woman making decisions about her life’s path, which was performed with perception and depth by lead actress Ally Kustera. The audience was clearly moved by her highly expressive performance of “Reflection,” which was live-streamed simultaneously on the backdrop for even an even greater emotional effect, as well as by how well Ms. Kustera was able to portray the emotional growth and character transformation of Mulan throughout the development the story.
• The adorable red dragon Mushu played by Dylan Brinn added the perfect dose of comic relief with his musical numbers and sarcastic comments, bringing the audience back to feeling light-hearted during his time on stage. His fabulous costume and mask was handcrafted by parent Alexandra Mendikyan.
• Once Mushu had been given the mission to guide Mulan through her journey, in order to earn his way back onto his pedestal in the temple he opened the exciting swing piece, “Keep Em’ Guessin” with the small dance group consisting of Christina Drummings, Isabelle Lanfranco, Katerina Damiano, Linnea Wong, Morgan Colleluori and Sara Corwin and the backup soldier dancers.
• The soldier dance, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” created by junior choreographers Ally Kustera and Morgan Colleuori with the dancing soldiers Emily Gershuny, Isabella Lanfranco, Katerina Damiano, Linnea Wong, Charlotte Simon and Morgan Colleuori and the backup soldier dancers set the action in motion with Mulan as soldier.
• The ancestors, including Sophia Matheus, Sophia Segal, Lauren Holly, Erin Purcell and Anaya Watkins who told the story of Mulan’s journey, performing beautifully as narrators throughout the entire performance.
• Terrifying, warfaring Huns Josh Youngquist, Shannon Milner, Christina Drummings, Kyla Crowder, Ali Nadeera and Kayla Fives, whose dark, horrific acts led to a powerful projected image of the destruction and death of war with Captain Shang in the center and who in turn were covered by the avalanche, which was cleverly caused by Mulan as a war tactic to defeat the Huns; another impressive stage effect created with white fabric and a live video projection of an avalanche.
• The very serious, somewhat “awkward-around-girls,” Captain Shang, played to perfection by Mack Brenner. His small team of “loser” soldiers, Ling-Nick Barretta (Ling), David Canas (Quin-Po) and Jeffrey Gudiel (Yao), who were humorous throughout and at times downright hilarious as they struggled to dress in their cheongsams and then sashayed off with fans waving as part of Mulan’s strategy to capture the Hun leader Shan-Yu.
• As a member of the Chinese dynasty, Chi-Fu, the Chinese bureaucrat was a central role played wonderfully throughout the production by Diana Harris with her calculating “note to self” comments and her very humorous fainting reaction to a well-deserved termination by the emperor wishing to grant Mulan a position in return for her services.
• Emperor Morgan Colleuori, who played several roles in the play, performed the emperor’s musical number and role, being lifted on and off of the stage twice by brutal Hun Josh Youngquist with the perfect sense of nobility to bring an honorable closing to Mulan’s journey by sending Shang off to the Fa family home to reunite with Mulan.
• The final decision taken by the ancestors in the epilogue to allow Mushu back into the temple with the symbol for change closed the play with a progressive conclusion in a celebratory scene with all cast and crew.
Finley has developed a strong drama club and theatre arts program. Attention is already turning to next year’s production. The seventh graders enjoyable such an enjoyable experience that all of them are expected to return to the fold in 2019. The eighth graders who are departing in June will be welcome additions to the high school stage.