Where To Now, O Jasmine?

Shoba Narayan finishes her Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ on Broadway journey in February 2023

Shoba Narayan as Jasmine in Aladdin on Broadway_photo by Matthew Murphy, provided by publicity for Disney

When Shoba Narayan looks back at the last one and a half years of playing Jasmine in Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ on Broadway, she sees the bright and colorful world of Jasmine, a young woman who is intelligent, adventurous, and has strong leadership qualities. “I have had the most magical time with Disney and on this show and in this role, and am really really proud of the run that we have had,” Narayan said to News India Times in an exclusive interview.

Narayan is soon to leave ‘Aladdin’. “I’ll be performing my final performance next month. That’ll be the completion of my Aladdin journey as of now,” Narayan said. She said she would miss being Jasmine and her co-workers but that she was also excited. “I have other things on the horizon. One of the things that I’ve worked on for the past couple of years is an adaptation of ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’, Narayan said. “I am playing Simran, this iconic role made unforgettable by Kajol’s performance,” Narayan said. ‘Dilwale’ will come to Broadway sometime in 2023.

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Being Jasmine

Playing Jasmine in ‘Aladdin’ has been a big part of Narayan’s life. In this one and a half year, Jasmine has become her and she has become Jasmine, Narayan said. Jasmine is now a huge part of her heart, she said.  Narayan said she finds Jasmine to be a confident, bold, intelligent woman with the competence to rule a kingdom, and while she gave Jasmine a voice, Jasmine also gave her some of her qualities. “When you are inhabiting someone who has those qualities, it definitely bleeds into your being. So I find myself feeling really strong and empowered after portraying a woman as amazing as Jasmine is,” Narayan added.

Disney’s Aladdin has reawakened a sense of magic for many, old and young alike. For Narayan, playing the role of Jasmine, making beautiful music that she has loved for years, singing that music on Broadway stage, riding on the magic carpet, all has been wonderful. Her experience becomes more meaningful when the house lights come on and she sees South Asian kids seated in the front rows, wearing their Jasmine costumes. “When I see all of them, their faces beaming, so excited to be there, I feel it to be one of the most meaningful parts of this experience,” Narayan said.

Narayan has been the first South Asian woman to play the role of Jasmine on Broadway. She said she had made it a goal of hers to be on the stage, not seeing anyone like her on the Broadway shows as a child. Seeing South Asian parents bring their children to the show made her happy to see that these children would know their dreams are possible, that they are worthy and powerful and can be strong leaders, Narayan said.

Preparing for a Broadway Career

Narayan has had a tremendous dedication to art, educating herself and preparing herself for this future. She grew up in suburban Philadelphia as an Indian American child, when her parents noticed her passion and natural inclination towards theatrical expression, she said. Her parents enrolled her in classes and Narayan studied ballet and classical voice, she said. She also studied Carnatic music and Bharat Natyam at the same time, giving her a great sense of her cultural identity.

Narayan acknowledges her heritage proudly. She said she has traveled many times to Chennai to perform and also watch others perform. “You can feel it in every ounce of your being when you are sitting in the audience, morning till evening, watching World Class performers dedicate their lives to the fine arts. I feel that is really the heart and soul of South Indian culture,” she said. Narayan said she has had an amazing lineage of gurus and teachers in India and in the U.S. “I am indebted to all of my gurus for really instilling a great foundation in the art form. But they gave me so much more than that. I soaked in so much of the culture of our language,” Narayan said.

Narayan did her first musical when she was eight years old, being selected out of 500 children, she said. That was her first foray into what being in a musical feels like. She said it was then that she discovered that there was an art form which combined all of the things she loved, singing, dancing, theatricality, and storytelling. “Then on I was completely hooked to musical theater, and set my sights on Broadway,” she said.

Narayan’s parents were very supportive of her choices. They had realized that art was going to be her professional life, she said. “It was a time when most of my peers were studying to eventually get into a pre-med program or into finance,” she recalled. She said her parents had full confidence in her and believed in her. “They knew I had the tenacity to figure it out,” she said.

Broadway and ‘Aladdin’

Michael Maliakel (Aladdin) and Shoba Narayan (Jasmine)_photo by Matthew Murphy, (c) Disney

After graduating from the Boston Conservatory at Berkeley where she studied musical theater, Narayan moved to New York and began auditioning for various parts, doing television and films in the meantime. Narayan has acted as the younger version of Priyanka Chopra on Quantico. “I was on Gossip Girl. I did a movie with Poorna Jagannathan called ‘Growing up Smith’,” she said.

Narayan’s Broadway debut came in 2016 in a show called ‘Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812’. She said it became a long and wonderful journey into the Broadway world where she subsequently acted in ‘Hamilton’ playing Eliza Hamilton and in ‘Wicked’ where she played one of the wicked witches. Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ is her fourth Broadway show. “This one is definitely very special because I grew up loving this music, loving the character, so it feels very full circle in many ways,” Narayan said.

Excited to go to her next show, Narayan said she will miss both ‘Aladdin’ and her co-workers with whom she shares a great rapport. She said the best thing about the people she works with is that they bring 150% of themselves into the performance every night. “And I know no matter who I’m acting across, they are going to support me, they are going to do everything they can to give the best performance possible,” she said. Narayan said all the people on ‘Aladdin’ had become like a family. “One of the best things about playing Jasmine in ‘Aladdin’ has been the people that I work with every day. They are amazing artists, wonderful people,” Narayan said.

Playing Simran

The story of ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ is updated for today’s times and so Simran is actually an Indian American woman, Narayan informed. “I am really excited as an Indian American woman to play an Indian American woman on stage and on a Broadway stage, which is even more exciting,” she said. Speaking of actor Kajol’s portrayal of Simran, Narayan said Kajol is spontaneous and mesmerizing. “She is a world class actress,” she said, adding, “I’m honored to share this role with her”.

‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ has had a run in San Diego in the fall of 2022. Directed by Aditya Chopra, the musical is a beautiful collaboration between the best of Broadway and the best of Indian Cinema, Narayan said. Narayan said she is really excited and wants more people to see it when it comes to Broadway in 2023.

In the interim, before starting on ‘Dilwale’, Narayan said she would love to catch up with her family for whom she has not had much time due to her regular performances. She has been working with children all through adulthood. “I love helping them find their confidence and be the best artists that they can be,” she said. She has been helping kids from high school and college who want to get into the business and need extra attention working on any materials and honing their skills.

But Jasmine in Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ on Broadway will always remain special for her, Narayan said. “My feelings cannot be summed up in one sentence. I feel like I have a whole chapter in a book to write about my ‘Aladdin’ experience, Narayan said.

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