‘Between the Lines’ star Arielle Jacobs on bullying, mother-daughter stories, and working with Jodi Picoult
Most people wouldn’t want to relive high school. But Arielle Jacobs is alright with the do-overs.
In fact, playing young women in youthful stories has become one of Jacobs’s specialties. Her first professional gig was as Gabriella in the High School Musical stage show (directed by Jeff Calhoun, who also helms Between the Lines), and many know her as Princess Jasmine in Broadway’s Aladdin, a role she was playing on a Disney Princess Concert tour when we had our virtual interview.
Next, she’ll next star as 17-year-old bookworm Delilah in Between the Lines, which starts performances off Broadway on June 14. The adaptation of Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer’s young adult novel follows a girl who doesn’t fit in at school and often fights with her single mother at home. Delilah escapes into her favorite book — and unexpectedly gets the companionship she’s craved when the fantasy prince comes to life.
That was Jacob’s favorite part of the Between the Lines book when she read it, along with the fact that the audience and Delilah go on the same journey of constant discovery.
“As a reader, you’re going through the same experience that Delilah is going through, which is: Is this happening? Is this all in my head? Is this magical? Is she going crazy?” she said.
Even if you’re not a fangirl like Delilah, there’s still something for audiences of all ages and backgrounds to love about Between the Lines, if they have a little imagination. Plus, the musical is all about making true connections, a theme that’s become even more universally relevant since 2020, when the musical was originally scheduled to open.
“Who are you going to spend your time with? Who actually sees you for the real you? Who makes you feel good about yourself?” Jacobs said. “Having to answer those questions in your real life throughout the last two years, and now being able to, as Delilah, ask the same questions, there is a similarity there that I hadn’t noticed before.”
To get you on the same page with Jacobs about why Between the Lines is a must-see, read about what fans of Princess Jasmine, mothers and daughters, young adults, and everyone in between will love about the musical, plus what it was like for Jacobs to join forces with a formidable female creative team and bring a rare young adult story to the stage.
Do you see any parallels between Princess Jasmine and Delilah, as leading young women in fantasy stories?
I actually haven’t thought about that until this very moment. I suppose both Jasmine and Delilah feel like they’re trapped in a world that they want to get out of. Jasmine really wants to get out of her palace and see the world — she feels like she’s living her life based on how other people say it should go, and I think Delilah feels the same way.
I think Delilah doesn’t like how she thinks the world is saying she has to live her life. She feels trapped in a school where people are bullying her and she hates her life every day. She feels trapped in her home life where she and her mom are fighting every moment of the day as well. So I think she’s also trapped in this place that she wants to get out of, and there’s for sure similarities in that.
What will the people who know you as Jasmine see differently from you as Delilah?
Princess Jasmine is confident; Princess Jasmine walks tall. I had to work so much on my posture to be a royal princess when I was playing Princess Jasmine. I explore the opposite as Delilah. Delilah wants to disappear. Delilah feels very uncomfortable in her own skin. Delilah’s afraid to speak up for herself, whereas Jasmine is all about speaking up for yourself.
I’m really excited to play Delilah, because not only is it the most challenging and most fun role that I’ve ever gotten the chance to play, but I’m also really excited because I get to be the narrator of the show. I’m onstage 95 percent of the show. I talk to the audience, I tell you what’s going on, I introduce you to characters, I read from the book, and then I switch right into scenes and songs.
Do you see your younger self in Delilah?
Absolutely. I actually had really bad bullying when I was in middle school. I feel like it’s a really common thing, especially among young girls. It’s just that age group where people can be really mean to each other. I relate to that aspect of Delilah’s character. At the time, I didn’t escape solely into books. I also escaped into dancing and singing and theatre. That was my escape. I wanted to not just read the stories of other characters, but become other characters.
But I love to read. I grew up reading detective stories; I loved reading Nancy Drew when I was little. I have memories of being so absorbed in my book when I was growing up that I would just be in it 24 hours a day. I would follow my mom along to all of our errands, whether it was the grocery store or the pharmacy, and I would just trail her through the aisles, head in my book. I couldn’t put it down. I still love to read and I do a lot of reading, especially on a commute.
What was it like to work with Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson?
They wrote Walt Disney’s animated Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. They’re the writers of Apple TV’s Central Park. The music they write is just so good and gets stuck in your head, and it’s really clever and moving and uplifting. I guess they’re earworms, which is really fun because we’re bookworms! The young adults are going to really flip over the music. All of us will.
I feel like me and Kate and Elyssa and also Jodi Picoult, the writer of Between the Lines, when we’re in a room together, we’re all just giddy schoolgirls. Even though we aren’t the age of Delilah — we are older than that character — I feel like there’s a certain energy and a certain quality of people who have a childlike, youthful exuberance for life, that when they come together in a room you all just can be completely yourselves, no apologies.
I love that those women and myself, whenever we’re together, you don’t have to put on “being an adult.” If you love sparkles and rainbows and unicorns and fairies and butterflies, we are all for it.
What has it been like getting to know Jodi Picoult?
I actually got married in March of 2020, like, four days before Broadway shut down. [Between the Lines director] Jeff Calhoun came to my wedding with his husband. [Between the Lines bookwriter] Tim McDonald came with his husband. Jodi Picoult came to my wedding — and this was in Mexico! They flew to Tulum!
The coolest thing, though, that I remember is that Jodi Picoult loves dogs, and my dog was the ring bearer at my wedding. So for the whole dinner and reception, Jodi Picoult was my dogsitter, so she was holding my little puppy in her lap the entire time. That’s one of my favorite memories of my life.
What’s the significance of being part of a young adult story like Between the Lines? Young adult fiction doesn’t often get stage adaptations.
I’m really excited for people to be able to relate to Delilah in whatever way that they feel relates to their life. A lot of people might not read books, but they might escape in a different way. A lot of people probably had very similar experiences to Delilah growing up where they were treated horribly by kids around them and they didn’t feel like they fit in. And I think that for anyone who feels like that they don’t fit in and that they’re stuck in a world that they don’t want to be in, this show is for you.
The other thing I’ll say is, I don’t know if there’s any stories out there that really focus on the relationship of a single mother and her daughter. This really shows some of the challenging aspects of a mother-daughter relationship, but also really shows what it’s like when there’s a moment of connection. And I think it can be a really healing experience for mothers and daughters of all ages. Also the children of parents who’ve gotten divorced, because that is also Delilah’s experience.
What makes Between the Lines such a great story to tell right now?
There is a heightened version of needing to escape after the last two years that we’ve had. There’s also the importance of connecting with other people that we’ve been missing. And I think one of the cool things about the story is that Delilah’s connections with other people are not typical in terms of people at her age — her best friend in school is the librarian who’s, like, 82. Who do you choose to connect to in your life? Over the last two years of the pandemic, that’s also been a big question for us because we haven’t technically been allowed to be social in the way that we used to be.
[The show is] also about empowerment and about what it means to be able to write your own story and create your own life. A lot of people of all ages right now are feeling like they haven’t had that for the last two years. They haven’t been able to write their own story. They haven’t been in control of their own life because of this pandemic and being stuck inside and not working, or whatever people’s experiences have been — a lot of loss. And so I think this story is coming at the exact right time.