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'Jasmine was a huge role model to me'

Jasmine was a huge role model to me
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As kids growing up in different states, Shoba Narayan and Michael Maliakel shared a love of one favourite film 'Aladdin'.

Both are of Indian descent and in the animated movie, they saw people who looked like them.

That shared love has gone full-circle this month as Narayan and Maliakel lead the Broadway company of the musical Aladdin out of the pandemic, playing Princess Jasmine and the hero from the title, respectively.

"Growing up, there was such little South Asian and Middle Eastern representation in the American media and Princess Jasmine was all I had. She was a huge role model to me as someone intelligent and strong and independent and beautifully curious and that is who I wanted to be," said Narayan.

The pair arrived at 'Aladdin' in very different ways.

Maliakel is making his Broadway debut, but Narayan is a musical theater veteran, having made her Broadway debut in 'Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet' of 1812 and touring with 'Hamilton' as Eliza Hamilton.

She was in 'Wicked' as Nessarose when the pandemic shut down Broadway in March 2020.

Her agent called in April with the prospect of auditioning for Jasmine. She sang 'A Whole New World' over 'Zoom' in gallery mode, pretending to be on a magic carpet.

'Disney' producers flew her to New York to meet face-to-face and go through the material again.

Narayan was asked to read with different 'Aladdin' potential actors.

After getting the gig, she said, "I went from a wicked witch to a 'Disney' princess. Cannot complain."

Maliakel, a native of New Jersey, came from the world of opera, a baritone who studied at Johns Hopkins University and the 2014 winner at the 'National Musical Theatre Competition'. He trained his voice to be flexible, waiting for the right window to open.

"I did not see a lot of people doing what I wanted to do in the world," he said.

He added, "There just was not a whole lot of representation. So, it is really hard to imagine yourself in those scenarios when you have no one to look up to as a role model or an example of how it could be done."

Broadway's 'Aladdin' is a musical adaptation of the 1992 movie starring Robin Williams. The musical's story by Chad Beguelin hews close to the film - a street urchin finds a genie in a lamp and hopes to woo a princess while staying true to his values and away from palace intrigue.

"It is every brown girl's dream to be singing that song on an actual flying carpet," said Narayan.

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