On October 16, we hit an artistic milestone. You may have missed it—there’s been a lot going on. But the release of Netflix’s Over the Moon was a giant leap for humankind.
The animated movie musical boasts an all-Asian cast, a rarity in Hollywood, in a story that is specifically Chinese. The movie revolves around a Chinese family, the ancestral Chinese lore they pass down from mother to daughter, the Chinese Moon Festival, and Chinese cuisine (the family has a business in mooncakes).
Written by Audrey Wells, Jennifer Yee McDevitt, and Alice Wu, Over the Moon follows the story of a young Chinese girl Fei Fei. As an only child, she and her parents are very close, and she grows up listening to the ancestral stories passed down by her Ma Ma. Her favorite is the legend of Chang’e and Hou Yi, star-crossed lovers who are separated when (in this version of the parable) Chang’e takes an immortality pill that sends her to the moon and leaves Hou Yi back on Earth. The moon goddess waits up there in the heavens, awaiting “the gift” and working on an immortality elixir to reunite her with Hou Yi. When Ma Ma falls ill and passes away, Fei Fei and her Ba Ba rely on each other. But when Ba Ba brings home the woman he’s been dating and her son to celebrate the moon festival, Fei Fei embarks on a quest to meet the moon goddess to prove that love is everlasting.
Not only are the cultural roots authentic, so are the musical ones. Directors Glen Keane and John Kahrs cast actors and hired writers and orchestrators who made their way in theatre.
Here are 11 theatre people who made Over the Moon a musical success:
Christopher Curtis, songwriter
The movie features songs by Curtis, Marjorie Duffield, and Helen Park—all of whom have roots in theatre. Curtis wrote the book, music, lyrics, and musical arrangements for Broadway’s Chaplin. The musical debuted in 2012 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre and starred Rob McClure as the titular Charlie Chaplin. The production earned eight Outer Critics Circle Awards nominations and six Drama Desk Award nomination. Curtis also wrote the music for Someday: A New Musical and The Man Upon the Wall, currently in the workshop phase.
Marjorie Duffield, songwriter
Outside of Over the Moon, Duffield is a playwright and lyricist. She paired up with Curtis to write lyrics for Someday. Her play Ice Island: The Wait for Shackleton bowed Off-Broadway at The Melting Pot Theatre Company. She wrote the book and lyrics for Sit-In at the Five & Dime, Lucky Hans, Cyber-Alice, In a Lake of Fire, and Tit Tales, A Body Politics Cabaret. Her plays have been seen at Dixon Place, WP, La Mama, and more. Duffield is also a past recipient of the Jonathan Larson Grant.
Helen Park, songwriter
Park and co-writer Max Vernon made waves in the theatre community with the Off-Broadway smash KPOP—which is aiming for Broadway once theatres reopen. KPOP won Best Musical at the Lucille Lortel Awards in 2018. She is also a three-time Drama Desk nominee for Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Lyrics, and Outstanding Music for KPOP. She graduated with her MFA from NYU’s Musical Theatre Writing program and is also an alum of the BMI Workshop. But we have the full team to thank for such touching songs like “Yours Forever" and bops like “Ultraluminary” in Over the Moon.
Cathy Ang, Fei Fei
At the center of our story is non other than KPOP alum Ang. She was featured in Maybe Happy Ending as Claire at Alliance Theatre in Georgia and was a Forest of Arden company member in Michael Arden’s American Dream Study. Other theatre credits of Ang’s include: The Undesirables (Eugene O’Neill), Riot Antigone (La MaMa), We Are the Tigers (Theatre 80), and Madam Pascal and Toe Pick (Dixon Place). Her theatre training shows in the intimacy of her performance. Ang shows her whole heart as Fei Fei and her vocal range and conviction land in “Rocket to the Moon.” She accomplishes a moving vulnerability while showing off her vocal technique, like a true theatre vet.
Ruthie Ann Miles, Ma Ma
Is there a more angelic sound than Miles’ delicate soprano? The Tony Award winner somehow manages to channel her natural and genuine warmth through her voice and through the screen. The compassion and understanding she brought to her winning performance in Broadway’s The King and I again shows up here, as she plays Fei Fei’s loving mother. Ma Ma exudes gentleness and love, thanks to Miles’ performance. And even though it’s only their voicework, the bond between Miles and Ang feels so strong you believe that Fei Fei would fly over the moon just to get that feeling back. Miles has been away from the stage since King and I. Though she returned for Lincoln Center Theater’s gala performance of Camelot, she’s been starring on television’s courtroom drama All Rise. Hearing her again reminds us just how special a performer she is.
Kimiko Glenn, Auntie Mei/Lulu
Glenn originated the role of anxious server Dawn in Waitress on Broadway. Before that, she starred as Thea in the national tour of Spring Awakening. Glenn brings her flair for the dramatic to her performance of Auntie Mei, the romantic (if not thirsty) relative who brings levity and comedy to the movie.
Sandra Oh, Zhong Ai-Yi
Before she was Dr. Christina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy or the titular character on Killing Eve, Oh began her career in theatre. A graduate of the National Theatre School in Canada, she starred in a Canadian production of Oleanna. She was nominated for a Drama Desk Award in 2007 for Satellites. Here, she voices Mrs. Zhong, the woman Fei Fei’s father begins to date, sending Fei Fei into a determined spiral to prove love doesn’t die when a person does.
Conrad Ricamora, Hou Yi
Ricamora’s role is fleeting but impactful. At the center of the story is the legend of Chang’e and Hou-Yi. In Over the Moon, Chang’e and Hou Yi were lovers on earth. But Chang’e took a pill of immortality that granted her eternal life and made her the moon goddess, but left Hou Yi behind. Now she spends her days with Jade Rabbit, trying to create an elixer of immortality to reunite with her true love. No spoilers, but Ricamora brings a sensitivity and touching resignation to the character that could break your heart. His rich, silky vocals leave you wanting more from his role, but the quickness achieves the desired result. His duet with Soo, “Yours Forever,” will fill you up. Of course, Ricamora starred as Lun Tha alongside Miles in the Lincoln Center Theater revival of The King and I. Most recently, he originated the role of Xue Xing in the Off-Broadway hit Soft Power at the Public, for which he earned a Drama Desk nomination. And, Ricamora is no stranger to the Public; he was featured in Here Lies Love, which also starred Miles.
Phillipa Soo, Chang’e
If you’re going to ask someone to play a goddess of Chinese tradition, you may as well find a goddess on Earth. Soo is incredible as Chang’e. Is she a villain? Is she a sorcerer? Is she a fairy godmother? All and none of the above. From Natasha in The Great Comet to Eliza Schuyler Hamilton in Hamilton (for which she earned a Tony nomination), Soo is stealth with her talent. You don’t even realize how good she is, how difficult the riffs are, how subtle the choices. Soo brings her nuanced acting chops and stellar vocals to the role, and you’ll be dancing to “Luminary” from morning until night.
Jason Tam, background singer
Best known of late as The Squip from Broadway’s Be More Chill, Tam is part of the Over the Moon ensemble; you know a cast is amazing when backup vocals come from a performer with Tam’s résumé. He has starred in A Chorus Line, If/Then, and Lysistrata Jones, having started out as a child actor in Les Misérables.
Larry Hochman, orchestrator
With ballads like “On the Moon Above,” an I Want song to rival the classics in “Rocket to the Moon,” a true pop track in “Ultraluminary,” and a great patter song in “Wonderful,” the score sounds as good as it does thanks to Hochman. Hochman is a nine-time Tony-nominated orchestrator, and a winner for The Book of Mormon, with 30 Broadway credits. Most recently, he provided new orchestrations for the Broadway revivals of Kiss Me, Kate, Hello, Dolly!, and She Loves Me as well as new musical The Prom. No wonder the score for this movie is fire.