“The Girl Who Drank the Moon” enchants and captivates Utah Valley audiences

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The mystical, magical book “The Girl Who Drank The Moon” by Kelly Barnhill has been adapted into a one-act stage production and premiered in partnership with UVU School of the Arts on November 7. It was adapted by playwright Melissa Leilani Larson over the span of two years. 

“UVU wanted to produce a new show that both parents and children could enjoy,” said Larson. “I wanted to find something that featured a female protagonist and was geared at a more junior high audience. Some of the more classic stories had been done to death, so we looked at other books to adapt.”

Larson said when the creative team, including UVU professor Janine Sobeck Knighton, reached out to Barnhill about adapting her Newberry Award-winning book, it was just their luck that they were the first to ask about transferring the story to the stage. 

The book and play tell the story of Luna (Sarah Cousins), a girl who was left in the woods as an infant and taken in by kindly witch Xan (Barta Heiner), a bog monster (Riki Squire), and a “simply enormous” dragon (Josh Needles). As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, she discovers the power she holds inside her. She begins to uncover a magical new world and learns about her beginnings along the way.

The witch Xan (Barta Heiner) reaches for starlight. Photo by UVU School of the Arts.

Larson said that while she had never written a fantasy-based play before, she loved the genre as a young girl. 

“Fantasy changes the lens we use to look at society,” said Larson. “For some reason when you do that with a story, [fantasy] makes it easier for us to digest the problems that we have.”

Magic was front and center in this production, from the mood-setting sound design by Aaron Gubler to the lighting by Graham Whipple. Simple changes in lighting could transport the audience from a swamp to a cozy cottage in seconds. 

Sarah Cousins played the hero Luna with a sweetness that made it easy to forget she wasn’t actually a thirteen-year-old. She was all at once curious and adventurous, making an endearing protagonist. Heiner brought warmth and wisdom to the centuries-old witch that adopts Luna as her granddaughter. Her expressive voice drew you into the story and kept you there until the end. 

Needles, through animated facial expressions and expert puppetry, played Fyrian the baby dragon with the boundless energy of a puppy. The puppet design by Erin Bjorn was impossibly cute and very effective. Watching both the puppet and Needles work at once helped audiences hear and see the emotion in an otherwise inanimate object. Needles’ double-duty performance was one of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the show. 

Fyrian (Josh Needles) pesters Xan (Barta Heiner). Photo by UVU School of the Arts.

The show is held in the Bastian Theatre at the Noorda Center– a blackbox theatre that can be configured in numerous ways to suit any production. “The Girl Who Drank the Moon” is held in the round, with the audience surrounding the set on all sides. This helps to truly immerse them in the story.

The set design by Anna Driggs is almost as much of a character as the actors themselves. The swamp, town and cottage are all physically within feet of each other, but the world of the play still feels vast.

“Theater for young audiences can be tricky, but really it’s just about telling a good story,” said Larson. “We wanted to just do a good play for whoever comes to see it. It’s not necessarily ‘for kids,’ it’s just for anyone who wants to experience a good story.”

“The Girl Who Drank the Moon” closes on November 16. For tickets and showtimes, visit the UVU ticketing website.