Phillipa Soo: How prodigious Broadway star channeled pop queens to bring mythical moon goddess to life | Inquirer Entertainment

Phillipa Soo: How prodigious Broadway star channeled pop queens to bring mythical moon goddess to life

By: - Entertainment Editor
/ 12:40 AM November 05, 2020

Phillipa Soo

In Netflix’s animated musical “Over the Moon,” grief-stricken 12-year-old girl Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) dreads the impending marriage of her widower dad (John Cho) so much that she builds a rocket ship to prove the existence of mythical moon goddess, Chang’e—a role that couldn’t be better suited for any actress than Phillipa Soo. The shoe fits, as they say.

The luminous 30-year-old theater beauty, who’s known for originating the roles of Eliza Hamilton in “Hamilton,” Natasha Rostova in “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” and the title role in “Amélie” on Broadway, lends her voice to the moon goddess and demonstrates along the way the celestial heights her prodigious talent could scale.


She is without a doubt hard to match in the gorgeous showtunes she essays onstage, but, as Chang’e’s “Ultraluminary” production number in the kingdom of Lunaria manages to showcase, Phillipa can also channel her inner Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry without breaking a sweat.


Phillipa does make the shift from sing-and-dance characters to nonsinging roles look like it’s no skin off her back.

But what adjustment does the singer-actress make when she temporarily sets singing aside to breathe life into nonsinging projects and share the screen with the likes of Rosario Dawson and Michael Keaton (“Dopestick”), Geraldine Viswanathan and Dacre Montgomery (“The Broken Hearts Gallery”) and Angelina Jolie, Sam Rockwell and Helen Mirren (in the animated film “The One and Only Ivan”)?

“It’s really funny because when I first started working in this business, my first assignments were in musicals that were fully sang-through,” she told us, laughing. “You could say that they were sort of like operas and, basically, there was no spoken dialogue.

“But after that, I had an opportunity to do plays. I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, do I know how to talk (laughs)?’ Of course I did. But what’s great is that there’s a musicality to me that makes me hear music in a lot of the dialogue … For me, there’s musicality to speaking.

“So, whereas in a musical that’s completely sang-through, and you know the tempo, the energy is set for you. But when you’re acting in a play or film that does not have music, you know you are the tempo … you’re in charge of following it and finding the musicality within it. I can sing or speak as the role requires.

“What’s so much fun about being able to do both is that I get to access myself in different ways, and through different characters and voices. I feel so lucky that I’ve been in such a wide range of films and performances that have come out in the past year or so. I’m so proud to be a part of all of those projects.”


Chang’e (left, voiced by Soo) and Bungee (Edie Ichioka)

Asked how she managed to embody pop music’s biggest divas—Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyoncé—for her portrayal of a mythical figure, Phillipa explained, “What’s unique about Chang’e is that she is as much a legend as those three larger-than-life pop queens. Yes, I definitely took notes from them. I also tried to mine the world of K-pop at large.

“But I was also very much interested in finding that heightened-performance aspect for this goddess. And it really wasn’t until I saw the costume design of Guo Pei—known by many as China’s first haute couture designer—that something in me clicked, and I was like, ‘A-ha! OK, so this is where the bar is set. Now I’ve got to get there!’ And I had a lot of fun finding and exploring that in me.”

But it wasn’t like it was the first time the actress had heard of the moon goddess.

“I did know about Chang’e growing up,” Philippa admitted to members of the press at another virtual press call. “My dad used to read me this beautifully illustrated children’s book by Amy Tan called ‘The Moon Lady,’ which was also a story told through the eyes of a little girl.

“So, when I was first approached about this project, I was so excited. I knew exactly who this character was. Little did I know that this moon lady would be a new take on the traditional Chang’e.

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“Her traditional iteration is honored in this story, but at the same time, we also get to see through the eyes of this imaginative little girl her experience of meeting Chang’e, who’s also modern and self-owning. It’s a fun spinoff of the traditional story.”

TAGS: Over The Moon, Phillipa Soo

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