Rogelio Douglas, Jr. and Arielle Jacobs
Actress Arielle Jacobs, who performs the role of “Nina” in the touring production of “In the Heights” opening tonight at ASU Gammage, probably has a lot to say about Arizona’s immigration debate.
Her maternal grandfather, originally from the Philippines, petitioned for 17 years before receiving United States citizenship—moving to America with his wife and three children in 1965.
But we didn’t talk politics when we spoke. Instead, we chatted about her early experiences with arts and academics, and the message she hopes “In the Heights” will bring to Valley families.
Jacobs’ first formal arts training was ballet lessons at the age of three, something she’s certain must have been her idea because her parents “never forced anything on me.”
When Jacobs tired of ballet, she explored other forms of dance including jazz, tap and flamenco. As a child, she’d “get bored after six months” and want to try something new.
It was fine with her folks, recalls Jacobs, as long as she gave whatever she was doing her very best. “They had very high expectations for me.”
Jacobs admits to holding herself by the same high standards, and to having some very big dreams.
"In the Heights" Full Tour Company
“I wanted to be like Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston,” she quips. “I was really in love with them back in the day.”
At the age of seven, Jacobs started voice lessons.
Jacobs did some community theater in the San Francisco Bay Area where she grew up, including a stint as a Cratchit kid in a local production of “A Christmas Carol” at the age of 10.
She also took some theater classes and attended theater-related camps.
When asked about her decision to pursue a theater career, Jacobs offers a surprising response: “I didn’t really make a decision as much as it was made for me.”
Elise Santoro and Arielle Jacobs
Jacobs graduated from high school with a 4.2 grade point average after taking AP classes, noting that her first love was biology and environmental studies.
During the college admissions process, Jacobs focused on science programs—with just one exception. She applied to New York University and was admitted to their music theatre program.
She originated the role of “Gabrielle” in the national tour of Disney’s “High School Musical,” so many of us have already enjoyed her work on the ASU Gammage stage.
Jacobs sees plenty of parallels between her own life and that of character “Nina Rosario”–a high-achieving woman reticent to ask for help or support in times of stress or struggle. (She’d fit right in with the many RAK staffers who self-identify as ‘creative but compulsive.’)
Natalie Toro and Daniel Bolero
Every Valley theater-goer I know has had “In the Heights” on their ‘must-see’ list forever, but for the uninitiated Jacobs offers the following insight…
“Not all Broadway musicals are like ‘Showboat’ or ‘Carousel.’ ”
Jacobs hopes that “In the Heights,” which features Latin, hip-hop, soul and rap music, will introduce musical theater to people who might not explore it otherwise.
“In the Heights” has a take-away message perhaps most powerful to parents. “One of the deepest themes in this show,” reflects Jacob, “is healing family riffs.”
“Parenting,” share Jacobs, “can be harmful or supportive and loving.”
“In the Heights” is a thoughtful yet joyful exploration of ways parents and children wrestle with making choices, claiming power and finding genuine sources of self-worth.
I’m eager to take the journey…
Note: “In the Heights” earned 2008 Tony Awards® for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Choreography and Best Orchestrations—making it a delight to theater, music and dance aficionados alike. It features music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who traces the work’s “first incarnation” to his sophomore year at Wesleyan University), and book by Quiara Alegria Hudes. “In the Heights” will be performed June 15-20 at ASU Gammage in Tempe. Weekend matinees will feature Miranda reprising the role of “Usnavi” which he originated on Broadway. Saturday’s afternoon performance includes a talk-back with Miranda for audience members after the show.
Coming up: Summer arts offerings from local community colleges, Desert dance delights, More new season announcements, Focus on “Free Arts of Arizona”
Photos by Joan Marcus (2009) courtesy of ASU Gammage
Update: Lizabeth and I saw the show Tuesday night. There were some cast changes, so we didn’t get to see Jacobs perform, but the cast we saw was quite remarkable and received an enthusiastic standing ovation from a very-close-to-full house. Visit www.asugammage.com for reviews by “Gammage Goers,” Valley Broadway enthusiasts who share written and videotaped comments after seeing ASU Gammage Broadway series shows.