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The hills of Mt. Eskel are alive with the sound of Scandinavian folk music in Kensington Theatre Company's "Princess Academy," an original musical adaptation of local author Shannon Hale's best-selling 2005 young-adult novel. The show makes its premiere Friday, Dec. 9, featuring a special Q&A session with Hale after the performances that night and the next afternoon.

The book, which earned a 2006 Newbery Honor, comes to life onstage in a way that director Toni Butler feels was made to happen. Butler, who has been friends with Hale since they both graced community theater stages as young actors, read "Princess Academy" and immediately thought it would lend itself to dance numbers, string instruments and a chorus of folk songs.

"The music is so written into the fabric of the story," Butler said. "It's very organic — it's what the people on Mt. Eskel do. A lot of a cappella came from the voice of the people on the mountain."

It's not often that a performed adaptation of a book lives up to the expectations the reader. (The movie is never as good as the book, right?)

But as director, the production is exactly how Butler saw the story as she flipped through the pages of the novel. "The strong vision in your head is what we're trying to create on the stage," she said.

And the music, though an added element, closely follows that vision. While many of the lyrics were derived directly from the pages of Hale's book, which features snippets of songs at the start of each chapter, playwright Katherine Brown translated the story into a full-blown musical production. The first-time script writer and mother of three young children has a background in piano performance and choral music, and as she adapted Hale's "lyrical and poetical" descriptions of main characters — late at night while the kids were asleep — Brown found herself creating melodies to accompany the dialogue. She then turned the tunes over to Michelle Willis, director of the Kensington Symphony Orchestra, who arranged them for the theater company's pit orchestra. (Brigham Young University premiered a dramatic stage adaptation of the novel in 2015.)

With 120 cast members in the musical adaptation, the fantasy mountain village is filled with performers who have come together for the love of the arts and the community. Some of the themes of "Princess Academy," such as exploring personal identity, establishing healthy relationships and finding a home away from home, are mirrored in the mission of this suburban community theater in South Jordan, Butler says.

"The theater creates this really tight bond in our community," Butler said.

Maggie Scott, who plays the main character, Miri, commutes from Midway to join the cast for rehearsals. "When she comes to this place, she feels immediately that she's been accepted," Butler said. "The theater is that place where you can be you." —

The royal treatment

Kensington Theatre premieres its musical adaptation of "Princess Academy," Shannon Hale's beloved young-adult novel about the coming-of-age journey of 14-year-old Miri, who is sent away to school to be trained for a potential marriage to the prince of the kingdom of Danland.

When • Dec. 9-10, 12, 16-17, 19-21, at 7 p.m., and Dec. 10 and 17 at 1 p.m.

Where • Kensington Theatre, 11709 S. Vadania Drive, South Jordan

Tickets • $12 ($15 at the door) for the evening performances and $8 ($10 at the door) for the matinees;, 801-382-9328 or at the door

Talk Back • Join "Princess Academy" author Shannon Hale and cast and production team members for a Q&A after the Dec. 9 performance and the Dec. 10 1 p.m. matinee