Shoba Narayan, originally from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, just starred as Natasha in the Broadway musical, “Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812.” Also known as “The Great Comet,” the show was inspired by Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and is an adaptation of a portion of the novel.
Narayan has been ready for this role since November, when she was cast as the understudy for the female lead, Natasha. She finally took the stage with excitement, beauty, grace and a killer singing voice, on March 7th and 8th, temporarily replacing Denée Benton, who was on vacation at the time.
Narayan is not only the first South Asian leading lady on Broadway since “Bombay Dreams,” she is also currently the only South Asian female in any Broadway musical.
In other words, Narayan defeated nearly impossible odds by playing Natasha for even one night.
Even better, Narayan played the role of an incredibly complex and interesting female protagonist.
Natasha is a young and ingenious, but simultaneously romantic, passionate and fearless woman who is visiting Moscow and waiting for her beloved fiancé Andrei to return from war. Hers is a somewhat classic story of falling from grace, in which she has an unexpected, amorous connection with another man, ruining her reputation in the eyes of society and destroying her place within it. There is, however, nothing cliché, conventional, or boring about how her story is told.
Pierre (played by none other than Josh Groban) is the brooding, lonely outsider who falls for her, and an incredibly unique musical romance ensues, with songs ranging across the entire spectrum in genre and atmosphere.
Shoba Narayan received her BFA in Musical Theater from The Boston Conservatory at Berklee. Her most recent and most prominent television appearances prior to her Broadway fame have included her supporting role as Asha Bhatnagar in “Growing Up Smith,” her role as Whitney Qu’osby in “Halal in the Family,” and her brief appearance on “Quantico” as the “young” Alex Parrish (played by Priyanka Chopra).
In the theater world, however, Narayan was able to play a wide variety of characters that did not require she be Indian in appearance.
For example, Narayan’s Off-Broadway appearances include “Bunty Berman Presents,” “Gary Goldfarb,” “Master Escapist,” “Tink,” and more. On top of all that, Narayan is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher, having performed and competed in both the US and India.
How awesome is it that there is a living example of the fact that being a classical Indian dancer and being a Broadway star are not mutually exclusive?
Representation sends out a powerful message. It gives young South Asians the opportunity to see people that look like them doing what they dream of doing. It makes their dreams feel within reach and therefore, more worth pursuing.
Change starts with one person showing it can be done; that person inspires another person, and then there are two examples, and then three.
Eventually, there’s too many to count and by then, we won’t even need to.
The entertainment industry and audiences alike will benefit from young people of more backgrounds feeling empowered, inspired and encouraged to pursue the arts; directors will be given a wider spectrum of talent to choose from.
I would love to see Broadway, which is already such a beautiful, diverse and accepting place, welcome more South Asians into its ranks.
Eventually, maybe it’ll even begin to write roles for South Asians – the way it has begun for African Americans and Latino actors.