by Erin Chew, AsAmNews Staff Writer
Aladdin and Princess Jasmine flying on a magic carpet under a starry sky singing “A Whole New World,” is an iconic scene and reminiscent of childhood memories for almost thirty years. Broadway has brought theater shows and musicals portraying Aladdin since 2011, and it has again this year in 2021.
Adapted from the animated Disney film and centuries-old folktales including One Thousand and One Nights, Aladdin, is brought to fresh theatrical life in this bold new musical. But, what makes this musical extra special is that both Aladdin and Jasmine are played by South Asian American actors Michael Maliakel (Aladdin) and Shoba Narayan (Jasmine).
In light of Broadway musical Aladdin’s release, Maliakel and Narayan spoke to AsAmNews about what it means to them personally to play these two iconic characters, and how it feels to be the South Asian face of such a huge production.
“For me, Aladdin was a huge inspiration to me growing up. I am a huge fan of the cartoon and film and I’m devoted to it,” Maliakel said. “I also have the action figures and lunch boxes. It means so much to me, and to step into this role is a full circle moment for me.”
“To be able to play Aladdin, as a first generation Indian American, feels like a huge arrival point for myself, the people in our community, cultural background and to represented under represented voices is special and I take this responsibility seriously.”
Narayan adds that her childhood dream as a young South Asian American was to someday play and be Jasmine.
“Jasmine to me is all about adventure and compassion,” Narayan said in her interview with AsAmNews. “Those traits mean so much to me growing up as a young South Asian girl in America. She is a heroine with tanned skin and I saw a little of myself in her. She was everything to me growing up and I mimicked her by growing my hair long and sing “A whole new world”, and it is like a dream to be able to do this every night on Broadway on a carpet under a starry sky on stage.”
To have Asian faces as leads of a Broadway musical playing strong, spirited and heroic characters is absolutely momentous. To feel seen, heard and adequately represented is creating role models for future generations and will encourage Asian American actors to see value in themselves and their craft. Both Maliakel and Narayan discuss this and how their roles in Aladdin will set the tone for more South Asian/Asian American representation on stage.
“I think for young people, the concept of role models can’t be understated,” Maliakel said. “For me, it would have meant the world to see someone who looked like me to take up spaces like Broadway and the stage in general. Many members of the South Asian American community have reached out to both Shoba and myself thanking us for what we do and representing our community. Imagine being a young Asian American kid and seeing someone who looks like you play an iconic and heroic character.”
Narayan echoed what Maliakel said about the importance of creating role models and being seen and pushed for Asian American actors on stage to step up and represent.
“Growing up, I didn’t see anyone looking remotely like me starring in a Broadway show. I hope our leading roles in Aladdin will encourage future generations of Asian and South Asian American actors to step up and set the tone of what it means to be seen on stage and authentically telling a story,” she said.
To catch Broadway’s Aladdin, you can purchase tickets from the Aladdin the Musical website. Shows will run till August 7, 2022.
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