Sonya Balsara: On a magic carpet with ‘Aladdin’ on Broadway

Sonya Balsara as Jasmine in Disney’s Broadway Show ‘Aladdin.’ PHOTO: provided by TDW+Co

Seeing her family in the audience on her very first show was overwhelming, says Sonya Balsara who has been playing the lead character Jasmine on Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ since January 2023.

“Playing the lead in a Broadway show is not just a dream come true, it is not just feeling proud myself, but also making my family, and my community proud,” Balsara told News India Times/Desi Talk in an exclusive interview.

Disney has a wider outreach and Balsara said she feels that is the most incredible feeling to be part of such a big production. Apart from the glamour is the tremendous sense of responsibility to give one hundred percent every single day of being Jasmine on Broadway.

Diversity on Broadway

Balsara acknowledged that her unique opportunity to play the lead was the first step towards a real change on Broadway. Most of the Broadway roles were not originally written for South Asians. But of late, according to Balsara, there is an intentional shift towards inclusion of South Asian talent, not just with Disney, but with all of Broadway shows.

“Broadway productions are trying to be more intentional about casting an accurate representation,” Balsara said. She did not have that growing up, she said. “It is a dream to be on stage with people who are like me, and I know that we are making active change to the community,” she said. The first time she saw South Asian representation was in ‘Aladdin’ with Michael Maliakel singing. “It is one of the most profound experiences I have ever had,” Balsara said.

Playing Jasmine in ‘Aladdin’

Balsara said she feels very connected and aligned to Jasmine – an independent and strong young woman who thinks for herself and is eager to explore the world. Actors have always been known to bring a little of themselves to the roles they play. Jasmine’s moment of curiosity leading to the wonder of discovering for the first time the world outside of her palace, the marketplace, is what Balsara relates to, she said. “I think that curiosity is totally me,” she said.

For Balsara, Jasmine represents women who want to step out of the usual roles. “For me, playing Jasmine has meant to tell the story of young women who break barriers and reach their potential in leadership roles,” she says, “Especially young brown girls who don’t see them represented. I feel a great privilege to tell that story every day,” she said.

Playing Jasmine through the week, keeping it fresh and interesting every day, Balsara said takes a lot of discipline and determination. It is more important to be really present and involved in the show. “I think that the challenge of the actors is to make it truthful every single day and so you kind of have to trick yourself into thinking you’ve never done this thing before,” she said, “And that’s what playing pretend is really all about.”

Career Choice and Parental Support

Sonya Balsara. PHOTO: provided by TDW+Co.

Balsara’s education is also an unusual mix. She is a Bachelor in Fine Arts from  NYU’s Tisch School of Arts, where she took the acting training program, combining it with computer science, physics and writing courses, topping it all with a minor in business and media.

Her father, Nitash Balsara, is a Professor of Chemical Engineering at UC Berkeley and her mother, Rita Lilly, is a Western Classical singer.

Balsara said both her parents wanted her to get a well rounded, quality education. She has done volunteer work during her college days, she went to Philippines to build homes and recreate community spaces after a hurricane. Balsara has also volunteered with New York City Parks, and with UNICEF during the pandemic.

Her love of music and choosing it as a career, was greatly influenced by her mother’s love of music. From the West Coast her mother supports her lovingly, she says, sending care packages and vocal remedies and tips and tricks. “I know that I can call her at any moment and she’ll be available,” Balsara said. Her father also gives her regular signs of his love and support for her, she said.

The Indian Connection

Balsara said she relates to her Indian heritage. “I feel so connected to the Indian half of me,”  especially to her grandmother from India who was a practicing criminal lawyer, and inspite of being a Hindu, had married a Parsi. Her grandmother was shunned for marrying outside her faith and culture, but was very brave, Balsara said. She inspires her when playing Jasmine.

Her Indian-ness comes out in her love of Indian food, and in celebrating Diwali, Holi and Rakhi which were part of her life growing up. Balsara said, “I carry within me a beautiful mix of cultures with relatives from different faiths.” Its something like Jasmine’s kingdom Agrabah, which is not a real place, but a mix of different places, she said. “I am also a mixture of many different things. And I get to bring that onstage with me every night,” she said.

Future Plans

The Broadway stage is what Balsara loves. “I think that I  love it here. I want to stay for as long as I as I can, and to tell this story and to make it richer and deeper,” she said. “And  also use this moment to connect with young people and  make a difference in whatever capacity I can.”

Balsara said she is excited to just continue to learn and grow and, maybe in addition, tell other stories, maybe even write.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here