Eight-year-old student Izzy Kessner is hobbling around with one crutch, having just had her cast removed from her leg earlier the same day. Nonetheless, she launches into her rehearsal of the Disney musical Mulan with gusto.
When asked if she’s taken the theatre adage of “break a leg” to heart, 9-year-old Sadie Fix of pipes up, “Oh no, we don’t say that here, we say ‘crunchy bacon.’”
Half a dozen other children nod their heads sagely, backing up this theatrical tradition that was created by a veteran Dee-lightful participant. Although the kids in the show range in age from 6 to 17, most of them have been in multiple productions with the Dee-lightful musical theatre company - which debuted in 1999 - and they’re very familiar with theatrical productions and all that goes along with it. Fourteen-year-old Nicholas Freedson who attends New West Charter School had his nose buried in a book, before looking up and telling Patch he’d been busy studying his blocking.
Patch was invited to attend a rehearsal of Mulan at the ahead of the show’s four performances this coming weekend, where Fiesta La Ballona will be taking place in the park behind the building.
Dee-lightful is the brainchild of Dolores Aguanno who spent years studying theatre and dance. She produces four shows per year with the kids through Disney’s Broadway Junior Musicals that come complete with CD’s with an orchestral soundtrack and perfectly condensed shows that run just 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Thanks to an arrangement with Culver City Parks and Recreation Dept., Dee-lightful is able to rehearse and perform most of its productions at the Vets Auditorium.
The experience is such a great one for the kids that in addition to returning to appear in multiple productions, Aguanno’s “graduates” retain a strong interest in the theatre. So much so, this year the director of Mulan is 24-year-old Dana Murphy who started out as a kid herself in the Dee-lightful productions. Murphy just graduated from UC San Diego with a degree in Theatre and is thrilled to be at the helm of Mulan.
Zoe Petersen, 18 is also a Dee-lightful graduate and is the vocal director for Mulan. A recent Culver City High School graduate, Petersen is heading off to University of Redlands School of Music this fall.
Allegra Williams is Aguanno’s daughter. She too grew up with Dee-lightful and is working as the assistant director for Mulan. Williams just graduated from the musical theatre program at Cal State Chico and says she’s so grateful that her mother prepared her for “what I want to do with my life.”
All the kids Patch spoke with said how much they loved coming to theatre camp and emphasized the family aspect of Dee-lightful.
“Most of the time parents send you to camp to get you out of the house and it’s not much fun but we love coming to theatre camp,” said 12-year-old Mila Tigay of Larchmont Charter School, who shares the lead role of Mulan with 12-year-old Mica Williams who attends Culver City Middle School.
“I get up at 6:45 in the morning and run into my mom and say ‘Can I go to rehearsal now?’ enthuses 10-year-old Keaton Asma of , who is considered the new kid on the block with Mulan being his first Dee-lightful experience.
“It’s so much fun. The acting, singing and dancing,” says 9-year-old Eden Tigay (Mila’s younger sister), who attends Sinai Akiba Academy and who shares the role of Mushu with Sadie Fix. “But we also get to play games too,” she adds.
All the children use the word “family” a lot when it comes to Dee-lightful and it’s clear as they get into costume ready for their first real run through that they’re looking out for their fellow thespians. They hug each other and form a circle to sing a song about loving everyone.
Even as the rehearsal kicks off and one little girl finds herself forgetting the choreography, Murphy gently encourages her, calling out, “Turn the other way. That’s it! Good girl. You’re doing great!”
“It’s about the process, not the performance,” says Aguanno. "It’s not competitive here. We are a family and that’s why the kids keep coming back year after year.”
Mulan will have four performances on the following dates:
Fri Aug. 24 – 7:30 p.m.
Sat. Aug. 25 – 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Sun. Aug. 25 – 1:30 p.m.
Address: Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, 4117 Overland Ave., Culver City 90230
Tickets: $10 sold only at the door. Culver City Unified School District teachers can attend for free.