Disney Fanatics are already thrilled that three of Disney’s biggest musicals are back on Broadway (The Lion King, Frozen, and Aladdin), but these opening nights are even more exciting for the cast members-and one woman in particular. Shoba Narayan is the new Princess Jasmine in Broadway’s Aladdin, opposite Michael Maliakel (who is also new to his role as Aladdin), and she spoke to Glamour Magazine about why it means so much to play a Disney princess after facing many “preconceived notions about what a lead looks like.” As a South Asian woman trying to succeed onstage, Narayan faced lots of unfair prejudice, and she pushed through with a mixture of talent and the determination to “be so good [that] they can’t ignore you.’”
After hearing Narayan sing during the above rehearsal and hearing about her training (ballet, classical Indian dance, classical voice lessons, classical Indian singing, and violin), it’s no surprise that she gets to be Princess Jasmine on stage! After being told for years that “there was no one that looked like me on Broadway, so why would I play the role?”, Shoba is finally getting the attention she deserves. Her first lead role in Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 was “the first time in more than 10 years that a South Asian woman had a lead role on Broadway”.
“Personally, I didn’t have anyone to look to when I was growing up,” she told Glamour. And according to Glamour, “there weren’t brown girls getting kissed in the rain on movie sets or singing in big dresses on Broadway stages. The closest thing for a ’90s kid was Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine”. Shoba felt a strong connection to this particular Disney princess.“To have someone who was strong, could sing, was beautiful, desirable, and brave, wanted to question authority and potentially rule a kingdom…I wanted to be her,” Narayan remembers. “A Whole New World” was one of her favorite songs to sing, and Jasmine inspired her to grow her hair longer! “She was the only thing that I had to relate to,” Shoba explained. “So she meant a lot to me.”
Before the pandemic arrived, Shoba was playing Nessarose, the Wicked Witch of the East, in the musical Wicked (an interesting turn of fate, since she also overcame prejudice in school to play Dorothy as a teenager)! The audition for Aladdin actually had to be done virtually, but Narayan pulled it off, and now she’s excited to take center stage again in a particularly high-profile role! “[People of all different minorities] see someone like me being the lead in the show, portraying a character who is strong and desirable and the center of the story…I think they all feel seen and that they’re represented onstage,” she said thoughtfully.
Shoba shared the article on Instagram, thanking Glamour for letting her “share my own pain and struggle to get to this point in my journey, the importance of believing in yourself, and what I hope this moment brings to other minorities with big dreams”. To see a glimpse of pre-Broadway and pre-stardom Shoba, watch the song cover she did below!
Are you going to Broadway to see Aladdin, The Lion King, Frozen, or all three?