From Aladdin Jr. to Aladdin on Broadway, Sonya Balsara Has Been Preparing to Play Jasmine Her Whole Life | Playbill

Special Features From Aladdin Jr. to Aladdin on Broadway, Sonya Balsara Has Been Preparing to Play Jasmine Her Whole Life

The Disney musical's newest Jasmine explains how she has always seen herself in the princess.

Sonya Balsara in Aladdin Matthew Murphy

This week Playbill checks in with Sonya Balsara, who is making her Broadway debut as Jasmine in the long-running Disney musical Aladdin at the New Amsterdam Theatre

Balsara took part in the workshop of The Karate Kid musical and was also seen in the Theatreworks production of Sense and Sensibility and overseas in West Side Story. Her TV credits include FBI and Mozart in the Jungle

In the interview below, Balsara explores her life-long connection to the character of Jasmine and explains why playing the role, which she describes as "the joy and honor of a lifetime," is both a privilege and a responsibility—one that allows her to embrace all aspects of her mixed-race heritage. The actor also shares the impact of her first night performing on a Broadway stage.

Sonya Balsara

What is your typical day like now?
I typically start my day with a glass of water and apple cider vinegar with turmeric while I brew up a strong, frothy cappuccino. I then get into a cozy corner and devote an hour or so to writing while taking in the calm of the morning. Then I’ll meditate, do some mindful movement—usually weight training—freshen up, and eat. I am currently working on my relationship with rest and freeing my mind. I am learning to allow myself to simply do nothing when I need to, or engage in a creative, yet mindful activity like painting or cooking. In order to be fully present with my peers and an audience of 1,700 people each night, it’s very important that I tend to myself in this way each day. I hydrate all day long, do a vocal check-in, and practice yoga before heading to the theatre. If I can, I try to catch the sunset each day, even if it’s from the fire escape at the New Amsterdam.

What does it mean to you to make your Broadway debut in this role?
It is the joy and honor of a lifetime. Growing up, I saw myself in Jasmine—I grew up pretending to be her and even played her in Aladdin Jr. when I was 12. I love her bravery, tenacity, and honesty. She challenges the world to see her for all of who she is—independent, an equal to her male counterparts, and as a leader.

The magnitude of this opportunity and responsibility is not lost on me. It is a privilege to inspire young people, especially young girls who never saw themselves represented in other princesses or roles on Broadway. Beyond that, it is my dream that her story teaches all people that they can speak their truth: that you can feel overlooked and then choose to rewrite the story, that your voice can spearhead significant change toward a new world you dream about.

In order to be a role model for others, I am also learning to take ownership of who I am and my identity being mixed race. I have always had a complicated relationship with my identity in this industry, never quite feeling like I belong anywhere. Each night when I grace the stage, I aim to embrace all that I am—my Parsi, Hindu, and European-American roots—as well as the artist I am always striving to be. 

It is a dream of mine to inspire young people beyond the stage through mentorship and volunteering. I am excited to figure out how to incorporate more hands-on work into my life to have an impact on young minds.

You had filled in for a few performances last year as Jasmine. Tell me what it was like performing on a Broadway stage for the first time.
When I look back to the night of my debut, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude. I received such generous and unwavering support from the cast, crew, and the entire team at Disney. My whole family flew in for my first performance. The profound and unshakable feeling of witnessing how much this meant to them is one that I was not prepared for. I felt like I was flying the whole time (on and off the carpet). But it wasn’t until the last day of my two-month run that my feet hit the ground, and I could finally feel the reality of what I had accomplished. Working in this industry, you experience what feels like endless rejection, and I often numb myself and over-rationalize in order to keep going. Allowing success to fully sink in was oddly challenging.

Is there any part of the role or musical that feels particularly poignant after the events of the last few years?
Jasmine is introduced to the story asking her father, “What’s wrong with a woman running the kingdom?” In the final scene, her father declares, “The Princess shall marry whomever she deems worthy and rule beside him as his equal.” This is the most powerful moment for me in the show.

At this point in our country’s history, women have more power than ever to effect social change. For the first time we have a mixed race woman as VP, and more women are running for office than ever before. At the same time, the Dobbs decision was a huge blow to the sanctity of women’s autonomy and control of our bodies. Jasmine’s story holds a mirror to how far we’ve come and to all the work that still has yet to be done.

During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further?
My deepest hope is that people lean into curiosity about stories that are not about them. We focus so much on what makes us similar, but it is just as important to see the beauty in our differences. Let’s get fascinated about what we don’t know! We have such an incredible capacity to learn from each other if we dare to listen. From there we can uplift each other, invest in each other, and work to make changes that make our industry more inclusive, equitable, and loving.

What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past few years that you didn't already know?
I do not feel like myself if I am not giving back. The beacon of light for me during the pandemic was doing remote work for UNICEF Kid Power. I made short-form video content teaching kids about art, nature, and mindfulness. The program was free, and for every 10 videos watched, a meal was prepared for a child who would otherwise go hungry. It’s this kind of work that reminds me of the reason I am here. For me, it’s how I release my ego and claim my power back when the world is scary. As auditions started coming back, I made it part of my lifestyle to volunteer. On days where I had nothing better to do, I’d plant flowers or trees around the city, clean up trash, or shovel to make walking paths safe with NYC Parks. Learning I could make this part of my weekly or monthly routine was empowering and grounding.

Do you have any other stage or screen projects in the works?
I’ve shot a few short films and features that will be released soon. I’m very excited to share them when I can!

Do you have a dream stage role?
Dot in Sunday in the Park with George. And all the delicious yet-to-be-written parts for dynamic, complex women.

What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change?
I recommend donating to Malala Fund, a non-profit organization that helps girls have access to education around the world, and Girls Who Code, a non-profit that helps increase the number of women in computer science. I also really recommend getting curious about how you can help your local community based on what issues you are passionate about—homeless shelters, soup kitchens, cleaning up your local park, etc.

Look Back at the Original Broadway Cast of Disney's Aladdin on Broadway

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