Musical theater student makes Broadway debut in “The Great Gatsby”

Jasmine Villaroel is a partial swing in the Broadway musical, which begins previews on Friday.

Jasmine Villaroel, a junior musical theater major, performing in Fall shows. | COURTESY / LINDA JOHNSON

When Jasmine Villaroel found out she was making her Broadway debut in the star-studded  “The Great Gatsby,” she was initially overcome with a wave of concern. She was returning from a stint of taking classes virtually to perform in an off-Broadway production and worried about staying on track with her education. 

“I was in shock for a moment, I hung up the phone and I did sob because I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I was supposed to come right back to school,’ because I had been doing online classes for the first part of the spring semester,” said Villaroel, a junior musical theater major.

However, taking a leave of absence for the rest of the semester to be in a partial swing role in the Broadway debut of “The Great Gatsby,” which begins its previews on Friday, wasn’t something Villaroel could turn down. She is part of a Broadway crew complete with musical theater legends bringing a classic 1920s tale to the stage one century later.

The production stars the iconic Tony and Grammy Awards nominee Jeremy Jordan and Grammy Award winner Eva Noblezada in the leading roles of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, respectively. While Villaroel doesn’t directly interact with them on stage, she will perform in the ensemble alongside the other three partial swings in one role and fill in as needed for other ensemble roles. 

Learning to take on multiple roles as needed has been difficult, but Villaroel enjoys the challenge.

“​It’s exciting because it exercises your brain in a different way because you kind of just have to keep them separate,” Villaroel said, “And so, nerve-wracking as it is, it’s also kind of exciting.”

Villaroel landed the role after working under “The Great Gatsby” choreographer Dominique Kelley as a swing in a production of “After Midnight” at Paper Mill Playhouse, a regional theater in Millburn, New Jersey. Kelley’s team reached out to Villaroel and her agent asking if she’d be interested in being considered for the role in “The Great Gatsby.” 

Villaroel was ecstatic at the thought and submitted a dance video as an audition. She was offered the swing role at the end of January.

“It was definitely a lot of shock and a lot of a lot of disbelief because obviously Broadway has always been this dream of mine and so for it to happen where I wasn’t like directly going for it was just kind of unbelievable,” Villaroel said.

She immediately began talking to her advisors and professors at Temple about taking an academic leave of absence. She was met with great support and plans on taking courses during the summer to stay on track to graduate in May 2025.

Rehearsals for the show began in New York City in the third week of February to prepare for this week’s opening.

Jesse and Ruth Villaroel, Villaroel’s parents, first noticed their daughter’s talent for performing when she was just three years old. 

“She would be sitting in front of the TV singing along with what was on television,” Ruth Villaroel said. 

They signed her up for gymnastics and dance lessons, where Villaroel flourished. Her parents continued supporting her career in performance arts, and Villaroel started musical theater in middle school, immediately falling in love. She performed in school productions throughout middle and high school before deciding to study musical theater in college. 

“We were walking past Times Square when I was helping her get to different auditions, and she looked at me and said, ‘Dad, I’m gonna be here one day,’” Jesse Villaroel said. “And it was right on Broadway, and she’s like, ‘I’m gonna be in one of these theaters one day’ and I said, ‘You’ll get there’ and a year later here she is.”

While at Temple, Villaroel performed in the leading role of Ti Moune in “Once on This Island” in October 2022, directed by Amina Robinson.

“She has an impeccable work ethic,” Robinson said. “Anytime anything is assigned or anytime there’s any type of challenge or new way to grow, she always was the type of student to just dive right into it, and put herself out there.”

Before Villaroel was cast in “The Great Gatsby,” she was in talks with Robinson to reprise her role as Ti Moune in a production of “Once on This Island” at the Arden Theatre at Philbert and Second Streets. 

Despite Villaroel ultimately not being able to participate in “Once on This Island,” Robinson was still excited for her student’s Broadway debut. 

“She called me when she got the offer and she thought that I was probably going to be a little disappointed because she was gonna have to turn down ‘Once on This Island,’ and I wasn’t at all,” Robinson said. “I was like, ‘You don’t care about ‘Once on This Island’ right now,’ I said, ‘You’ve gotten to Broadway,’ so I was really proud of her.” 

Villaroel looks forward to playing different roles as a swing and hopes to eventually work in film and television. “The Great Gatsby” has helped her to feel more confident and ready to take her career to new heights.

“I’ve been seeing in these audition rooms, that [the choreographers and casting directors] are seeing the work that I’m putting in and that I deserve to be here,” Villaroel said.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.