Performing as Jasmine in Disney’s Aladdin, playing now as part of your Memorial Hermann Broadway at the Hobby Center Series, has certainly been a whole new world for Kaena Kekoa who just a few months ago went from being an elementary school teacher to starring in this spectacular national tour!
Can you tell us about how you became a member of this production and a bit about the audition process?
I attended an open call for Disney on Broadway in Honolulu a couple of months ago. They were auditioning for roles in The Lion King, Frozen, and Aladdin. I had no intentions of going but many of my friends and family encouraged me to go, so I decided I would do it the day before the audition. I was not prepared at all! I had just taken a headshot and wrote up a quick resume right before I went in. I was very nervous, but I also kept calm- I kept saying to myself “If this is God’s timing and where I need to be, it will happen!” I went into the audition room with no expectations, and that was the best thing I did because I got the best results! I got called back for all three shows, and was flown to New York City for the final callback of Aladdin. My life did a total 180 in a matter of four weeks, and I would do it all over again.
What was your profession prior to becoming Jasmine in this national tour?
I graduated last year from a private university in San Diego, California, with a degree in Teacher Education, and I moved right back home to Hawaiʻi to become a visual and performing arts teacher at a small, Christian elementary school. Besides performing, teaching is one of my passions. I love helping and seeing children understand a subject or discover a passion through school. Something that also brings me great joy is educating the next generation of Hawaiian children about their history, where they’re from, and how they can preserve the Hawaiian culture. I’m excited to see where the role of Jasmine will take me, but if this is all the performing I’ll do, I’m glad I have another passion waiting for me in Hawaiʻi.
What has it been like making your professional theatrical debut playing “Jasmine?”
It’s been everything I thought it would be and more! I know a very small amount of people who get paid to do what they love, and I am so blessed I get to be one of them. Jasmine opened a whole new world (pun intended) for me, and it’s been a dream come true!
How did you prepare for this huge life change and new profession?
If I’m being completely honest, I had very little time to prepare for this lifestyle. I had no idea what I was getting myself into other than the fact that I had to sing and dance for a living. I am lucky enough to work with individuals who have done this for a very long time, and are showing me the ins and outs of this business and being on the road. Everyone in this company has been very supportive. I’m learning new things about how to take care of myself and how to prepare, and I’m grateful I get to do it alongside people I’ve grown to love!
What has been the most surprising thing about performing on a Broadway national tour?
I’ve been most surprised about how beautiful this country is! Growing up in Hawaiʻi, I never had a yearning for travel; island fever was never a thing for me. Nothing will ever beat Hawaiʻi’s beauty, but I have seen some pretty amazing sights while on the road! I get to see parts of this country I’ve never seen before, and I am in awe of what beauties there are out there. It makes me very excited to move on to the next cities!
What is your favorite song or scene in the show and why?
The entire show is stunning, but my absolute favorite part of the show is the tap section in “Friend Like Me.” The first time I saw the show with this company, I cried my eyes out watching that section. Every aspect of that number is gorgeous, but what made me cry the most was the performers. I stand in the wings during that tap section now, and I can’t help but tear up when I see these people who I now know, adore, and get to work with do what they love! I play a small part in this intricate machine of a production, and I have to give my respect and love to the ensemble because they run a big part of it.
Have you ever performed in or visited Texas or Houston before? What things have you been able to explore thus far while you are here?
I have never been to Texas before, but it is gorgeous! I had A LOT of barbecue while I’ve been here, and I am ready for what Houston is gonna bring to the dinner table!!
Disney’s ALADDIN will play at the Hobby Center in Houston on June 26 – July 14
Kaena Kekoa(Jasmine) & Clinton Greenspan (Aladdin). Aladdin North American Tour. Photo by Deen van Meer. © Disney
Kaena Kekoa (Jasmine). Aladdin North American Tour. Photo by Deen van Meer. © Disney