HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Disney has found a new princess for its touring production of Aladdin ― and she hails from right here in Hawaii.
Disney Theatrical Productions announced this week the casting of Honolulu-native Kaena Kekoa as Jasmine, the female lead in the iconic Middle Eastern folktale. Rehearsals featuring Kekoa have already begun, and she’ll make her debut in the role during an April 25 performance in Salt Lake City.
And that performance won’t just be the first time she appears on stage as Jasmine; the company says it’ll actually be her professional theater debut, too.
“Being in something this huge is crazy in itself, but Aladdin is something I grew up watching,” Kekoa told Hawaii News Now on Tuesday afternoon. “It made it much more emotional. When we were little, singing the songs growing up ... just getting the call was a dream come true.”
Kekoa says she remembers ‘the call’ well, having received it on a Saturday afternoon after flying to New York City for a final audition.
“There were no words in that very moment. I was immediately crying,” she said. “I broke down, in the corner of my room. (I was) grateful, excited, but nervous, too.”
Kekoa, a graduate of Sacred Hearts Academy who was already making waves in theatrical productions when she was still in high school, was discovered by show producers at an open Disney on Broadway casting call in Honolulu ― one that she and some friends went to “just for fun” before she ended up actually landing the part.
After graduating with a degree in education from Point Loma Nazarene University last spring, Kekoa began working as a performing arts teacher at Waolani Judd Nazarene School in Nuuanu.
After helping guide the school’s dance team and Christmas recitals, she resigned from the teaching job earlier this year to accommodate the play’s production’s schedule ― a bittersweet decision, but one she hopes will eventually launch a successful acting career.
Aladdin is sure to be an eye-opening first national tour for the actress; the production of the play has grossed more than $1 billion since its debut and has been played in front of a collective audience of more than 10 million people during its run.
And as for her April 25 debut as Jasmine?
“I’ll probably be crying most of the time,” said Kekoa. “I know I’ll be full of gratitude. I’m looking forward to that night, and I’m hoping to make Hawaii proud and my family proud.”
This story will be updated.