Fil-Ams play Jasmines on B’way and nat’l tour of ‘Disney’s Aladdin’
PITTSBURGH — Filipino Americans Arielle Jacobs and Lissa deGuzman are playing the character of Princess Jasmine in “Disney’s Aladdin” in the Broadway production and North American touring production, respectively.
The musical “full of daring adventure, classic comedy and timeless romance” is based on the animated film where strong-willed Jasmine helps Aladdin discover his self-worth. Lea Salonga provided the singing voice of Jasmine in the film.
Other Filipino Americans in the Broadway production include Don Darryl Rivera, who plays Iago (the parrot in the film, though human in the musical); and ensemble actors Bobby Pestka, Angelo Soriano, and Joshua Dela Cruz (Aladdin understudy).
WATCH Arielle and Adam Jacobs sing “Whole New World” for their parents.
Jacobs opened the Australian production as Jasmine in 2016 and joined the Broadway production earlier this year. Her brother Adam originated the role of Aladdin in the Broadway production in 2014 and recently concluded his run in the touring production.
(Trivia: Fil-Canadian Kayla “K-La” Rivera and Fil-Am Tom Rodriguez played Jasmine and Aladdin, respectively, in the Asian premiere of the show in Manila in 2012. READ about it here.)
DeGuzman previously understudied the Jasmine role and stepped into the role full-time during the show’s Buffalo run.
She took up musical theatre at Belmont University and her previous credits include “West Side Story” at Studio Tenn, “Fiddler on the Roof” at The Muny, and “Chasing Rainbows” at Goodspeed Opera House.
Other Fil-Am actors in the touring production include Jay Paranada, who plays Iago, and ensemble actor Mathew deGuzman.
If Mathew’s surname sounds familiar, that’s not because he and Lissa are married. They are also not twins. He is Lissa’s older sibling.
The siblings were both cast as swings in the show last year. A swing knows many different roles and takes the place of absent cast members.
“Traveling and performing with my brother is the best part of being on tour. Being nine years apart, Mathew and I got to bridge that gap by living together and learning this show together,” says Lissa.
The deGuzmans, whose father is Filipino, were born in Wisconsin. Mathew was cast first with Lissa following a month later on. Mathew is assigned to know the tracks (all the roles assigned to one actor) of 11 actors while Lissa used to be assigned seven tracks.
“He’s a professional when it comes to touring, so I felt spoiled rotten getting all the pro tips from him. More than that, being on the road can make you homesick some days, but I get a piece of home with me every day and that has made my work and tour experience amazing. Plus, our parents love that we work and live together,” she adds.
Dream come true
When Lissa received the call informing her that she got the Jasmine role, she was disbelieving at first. “Honestly, I did not believe my agent when she told me. I asked if she was serious and then proceeded to pace up and down the stairs repeatedly exclaiming, ‘Oh my gosh, really? No way.’” she says.
“It was a dream that I did not think would become a reality. So when it did, I was truly overwhelmed with incredulous excitement. One of my friends overheard my exclamations and we ended up jumping around the dressing room shouting with joy.”
She then told Mathew and they also ended up running around, jumping and shouting.
Inspiring and smart
“I grew up watching all the Disney movies. ‘Aladdin’ was very much a part of my childhood,” she says. “Being one of five kids, on our annual trip to Florida, we would put a bulky television on top of a pile of pillows and play ‘Aladdin’ over and over.”
She recalls loving the movie right away. “As a child, it made me laugh and sing and wonder and swoon. Princess Jasmine was such an inspiring princess to me. She had dreams and standards that I had never seen before.
“She was so smart and could hold her own against her father and Jafar and was a perfect challenge for Aladdin. The way she carried herself and talked about life and love was always something that sparked my curiosity as a kid.”
Together with love
And now, she gets to play the very same character several times a week.
“Riding the magic carpet every night in the show is one of the most romantic and magical things I’ve ever done,” she says.
“Combined with the orchestrations, singing that well known song, and getting to look into Aladdin’s eyes, I cannot help but get swept up in the wonder and romance of it. It’s my favorite part of the show.”
“This show has humor, romance, and so much heart. It’s the perfect date night, getaway night, or family affair.”
In addition to the whimsical and fantastical aspects of the story, deGuzman also appreciates being part of an endeavor that showcases diversity.
“I feel that what we do is very important at this time. To be able to tell this story, looking around at the diversity on stage, it’s empowering and of the utmost importance, bringing this story to every audience member of every color together with laughter and love.”
After Pittsburgh, the show is slated to tour Atlanta, Charlotte, Columbus, Costa Mesa, Dallas, Des Moines, Detroit, Houston, Louisville, New Orleans, Omaha, Portland, Sacramento, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Jose, Tempe, and Washington, D.C. Additional cities will be announced.
Produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, the show has music by Tony Award winner Alan Menken, lyrics by two-time Oscar winner Howard Ashman, three-time Tony winner Tim Rice, and four-time Tony nominee Chad Beguelin.
Costume design is by two-time Tony winner Gregg Barnes, lighting design by six-time Tony winner Natasha Katz and scenic design by seven-time Tony winner Bob Crowley. The North American tour is directed and choreographed by Tony winner Casey Nicholaw.
“Disney’s Aladdin” runs on Broadway at New Amsterdam Theatre, 214 West 42nd St., New York.
North American Tour runs until Sept. 9 at Benedum Center, Pittsburgh. Opens Sept. 12 at Fox Theatre, Atlanta.