Broadway star Sonya Balsara born to play Princess Jasmine in ‘Aladdin’ on its 10th anniversary

We’ve all heard actors told “you were born to play that role.”

Usually little more than dose of hyperbole, it seems to go much deeper for Sonya Balsara, who plays Princess Jasmine for “Aladdin” on Broadway’s 10th anniversary.

It isn’t just that she has the pluck, the voice, the look and the presence to embody the bold, rebellious royal.

It isn’t just that her Broadway debut is a full circle moment, stepping out onto the Great Bright Way more than a decade after playing Jasmine in middle school. It isn’t just that her friends have always cast her as the Jasmine of their group.

It’s that the character seems to spring from a destined part of her.

Sonya Balsara stars as Jasmine in Disney's "Aladdin" on Broadway.

Sonya Balsara stars as Jasmine in Disney’s “Aladdin” on Broadway.

“I like to draw on my ancestors, and specifically my grandmother, who was an undefeated criminal lawyer in the 1950s and ’60s,” Balsara said. “She was also Hindu but married a Parsi, so married for love, married outside of her faith, and just broke all the rules and was the breadwinner in the house.”

Being raised by her grandmother’s son meant “there’s always those fundamentals that have been so rooted in me — you can really do anything. You don’t have to get anyone’s permission as long as you work really hard.”

The day of her first performance on Broadway, Balsara realized her Jasmine wasn’t just for her, but for her mother’s mother, too.

“I just had this epiphany that it was for her as well. She grew up in the U.S. and had a really rough go of it and was honestly on the opposite side, made choices because she wasn’t given all the opportunities that she could have to succeed. … To see women on such different poles, someone who’s defying all the odds and someone who kind of got defeated by the odds. I get chills when I think about it, but it’s for them, and for the women who inspire and the women who need to be inspired.”

More: Do you love ‘The Notebook’ movie? Then get ready for a ‘good, hard cry’ on Broadway

Sonya Balsara opens up on embodying Jasmine on Broadway’s ‘Aladdin’

Sonya Balsara stars as Jasmine in Disney's "Aladdin" on Broadway.

Sonya Balsara stars as Jasmine in Disney’s “Aladdin” on Broadway.

Playing Jasmine isn’t a responsibility Balsara takes lightly, particularly when it comes to representation.

“I’m mixed Asian, and I think growing up, Jasmine, for so many of us, was the only role model we had in the Disney Princess world — or at all. To see yourself represented was so important. I got to take that on at a young age. And now as an adult, I get to do that for my kid self, which is really, really wonderful. And to know that that’s also happening for audience members is truly a full circle moment.”

She says meeting kids at the stage door is one of “the most exciting and earth-shattering experiences,” when they share that they have never seen themselves represented in this way before.

“Like, ‘you have changed the way that I’m able to see myself.’ That is how got here,” she said.

So just what is it about Jasmine?

“She questions things,” Balsara said. “She dares to think outside of the box. She lives in this universe that is ruled by men. She dares to question it and dares to question her own role in it. And when she doesn’t get what she wants at the top of the show, which is to make her own decisions for herself, she says ‘I’m gonna do what I want anyway’ and she’s full of adventure and curiosity and and kindness. She does lead with kindness and so much heart and is true to herself.”

With Jasmine being the only female principal cast member in “Aladdin,” there also is an added responsibility to show her strength and determination, Balsara says.

“In the first scene in Act 2, every male character is onstage except for the Genie, and they’re talking about me. I have to disrupt it and it’s such a fascinating moment to enter as a woman. My prerogative in that moment is always to be seen and to be understood as strong and powerful and smart. That’s what I want to communicate to women, and young women especially.”

More: Broadway’s 10 best musicals and plays of 2023, including ‘Merrily We Roll Along’

Flying on the magic ‘Aladdin’ carpet

Watching the magic carpet fly in “Aladdin” is enchanting.

Experiencing it, Balsara says, is otherworldly.

“It’s a real carpet,” she said. “We say it’s Disney magic and it is, but you feel like you’re on a flying carpet and it’s not something you expect you’re going to feel in your life.”

She says the first time she stepped off the carpet in rehearsal, she cried.

“I had to take a moment because it became very, very real in that moment. It’s one thing to make your Broadway debut. It’s another thing to sing and fly at the same time.”

She said she has done the show about 500 times now, and “it’s never not magical.”

“As soon as the carpet lifts above the ground, and I look out at all those people and most of them are experiencing it for the first time, it’s always magical. Every time it’s magical. I don’t have to pretend.”

Celebrating ‘Aladdin’ on its 10th anniversary

“Aladdin” is celebrating its 10th anniversary on Broadway on March 20, which marks its 3,513th performance.

Balsara is thrilled that “I get to be a part of the celebration in this lineage. ‘Aladdin’ opened on Broadway 10 years ago and it’s totally evolved. And it’s in a wonderful form right now. It is exciting to be a part of it and to tell Jasmine’s story every day.”

Ten years is a lot of magic.

According to the folks at Disney on Broadway, the show has welcomed nearly 6 million audience members. Worldwide, there have been 11 productions on four continents.

In addition:

  • Aladdin and Jasmine have flown over 115 miles on the magic carpet while singing the Oscar-winning “A Whole New World.”
  • The Genie has set off more than 131,000 pyrotechnics in the showstopping “Friend Like Me.”
  • In the Act Two opener “Prince Ali,” the cast and wardrobe team have made nearly a quarter million lightning-fast costume quick changes.
  • 850 pounds of custom-mixed glitter have been used to create the Genie’s signature sparkle.

On March 28, the show will hold a special celebratory performance. Director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw is “staging a slate of hidden Easter eggs and an epic surprise in the show’s signature production number ‘Friend Like Me,'” according to Disney on Broadway.

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: ‘Aladdin’ on Broadway celebrates 10th anniversary: A look inside

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