San Diego-raised Ari Afsar to lead cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s ‘Bhangin’ It’

The cast of La Jolla Playhouse's world premiere musical "Bhangin' It: A Bangin' New Musical."
The cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s world premiere musical “Bhangin’ It: A Bangin’ New Musical,” which will play March 8 through April 17.
(La Jolla Playhouse)

The world premiere musical will be set in the competitive world of Indian Bhangra dancing in America


Arianna “Ari” Afsar, a singer, composer and theater artist who grew up in San Diego, has been cast in the lead role of La Jolla Playhouse’s upcoming world premiere musical “Bhangin’ It: A Bangin’ New Musical.”

Afsar will play Mary, an American of Southeast Asian descent who competes at the collegiate level in Indian Bhangra dance contests. The musical is written by former San Diegan Mike Lew and Rehana Lew Mirza, Sam Wilmott and Deep Singh. It will run March 8 through April 18 at the Playhouse.

Afsar was born and raised in San Diego. Her father is from Bangladesh and her mother is of German origin. She attended Westview High School in Rancho Peñasquitos. She placed in the top 36 singers in the eighth season of Fox’s “American Idol” series and was the winner of the 2010 Miss California pageant. In 2016, she originated the role of Eliza in the Chicago production of the musical “Hamilton.” She’s now composing the score for a pop rock musical titled “We Won’t Sleep,” with a book by playwright Lauren Gunderson.

Arianna "Ari" Afsar will lead the cast of La Jolla Playhouse's "Bhangin' It: A Banging New Musical" this spring.
Arianna “Ari” Afsar will lead the cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s world premiere musical “Bhangin’ It: A Banging New Musical” this spring. She was photographed here at a New York film festival n February 2020.
(Lars Niki / Getty Images for the Athena Film Awards)

Also featured in the musical’s cast are Aryaan Arora as Mohan, Bilaal Avaz as Amit; Jesse Bhamrah as Gobind, Brandon Contreras as Billy, Laura Dadap as Constance, Henry Walter Greenberg as Noah, San Diego actor Jason Heil as Wallace, Terrance Johnson as Jake, Jaya Joshi as Sunita, Madison McBride as Lily, Anu Mysore as Shetal, Amey Natu as Big Bob, Alka Nayyar as Rekha, Zain Patel as Varun, Devi Peot as New Mary, Vinithra Raj as Preeti, Ramita Ravi as Shilpa, along with Nikki Mirza, Gerry Tonella and Levin Valayil as swings.

The musical will be directed by Stafford Arima with choreography by Rujuta Vaidya and musical staging by Lisa Shriver. Anushka Pushpala will serve as the Bhangra dance specialist. “Bhangin’ It” is about a young American woman who finds her identity cannot be defined by checking a box, so she sets off on a quest to dance to her own beat. It will draw from competitive Bhangra and other Indian and Western dance forms.

Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley said he’s excited about the assembled cast.

“They bring an incredible vitality to a show that is very much of our current cultural moment. ‘Bhangin’ It: A Bangin’ New Musical’ is an utterly charming and vibrant new work about finding your identity and building community, and we can’t wait to share it with audiences this spring,” Ashley said, in a statement.