Local ‘princess’ teaches friendship, inclusion and affirmationDec 13, 2021 02:51PM ● By Karmel Harper
Moreno’s Princess Jasmine revives the classic 1990s character for a new generation. (Photo by Luminosity Photography.)
By Karmel Harper | [email protected]
When South Jordan’s Cindy Chia, who is Malaysian Chinese, took her then 2-year-old daughter, Maya, to Disney On Ice last year, Maya was upset that the show did not include Mulan, the Chinese heroine who saves her country.
“So I lodged a complaint to Disney and I was still not hopeful. But surprisingly this year there was a whole segment for Mulan!! Maya was so thrilled! My mom and I were in tears because it’s very rare that we get represented in such a big production like that,” Chia said.
Although heroines of color were rare in the early decades of Disney, recently more and more productions feature strong women of various ethnicities. As more of these princesses of color have become popular, the demand for character actors to play them has also increased, which is why Davis County’s Allegra-Bree Moreno stays quite busy appearing at various events and parties as Princess Jasmine, Raya, and Moana, among other characters.
With an extensive background in musical theater, acting, and modeling, Moreno began her “princess” career in March of 2021 when she answered a casting call for the role of Jasmine. While Jasmine was rarely booked at the time, once Moreno took over the role, Jasmine bookings increased significantly, a testament not only to her talent of playing the role well, but also her gift for connecting with children. From there, her roles expanded to Moana, Elena of Avalor, and Raya. In addition to Disney characters, Moreno also plays villains, super heroes, and science fiction characters. Most of her bookings come from word-of-mouth recommendations.
Chia, who recently moved from Herriman to Daybreak, celebrated her daughter Maya’s 3rd birthday by inviting Moreno to play Moana. Moreno, as Moana, paddle-boarded across Oquirrh Lake to greet an excited group of tots in front of Chia’s new home. Chia said Moreno “was patient, caring, and engaging to make sure my daughter had the best 3rd birthday.”
“It makes me feel good that they had a great experience with how we have been trained, the costuming we use, the wig quality, how we handle ourselves at a party and how we interact with children. A lot of people think it’s just dress up and cosplay. But when you have to be fully immersed in the role, it’s an entirely different skill because you have to create magic for the kids,” Moreno said.
As a person of mixed race including Cuban, West African/Haitian, Chinese, Portuguese, Ashkenazi Jewish, British, Scandinavian, and Filipino, Moreno and the three character companies she works for are passionate and proactive about representation and transcendent casting, the practice of casting people of color in traditionally white-cast roles. Moreno has had opportunities to play Belle and Cinderella, giving children the experience of interacting with favorite princesses who look like them.
“In this industry there are a lot of problems with colorism and racism and I have been fortunate to have found a community of people who do really care about these issues and strive to understand and become educated,” Moreno said.
When Moreno first started playing Jasmine she experienced the previous “white-washing” of Jasmine at a birthday party when one of the little girls showed her a Jasmine doll. "She held her doll next to me and she said, ‘I didn’t know you really were brown. You are so pretty,’” Moreno said.
Moreno’s personal experience as a minority and a child who was bullied growing up has given her the dedication to empower children who feel “othered” and seek belonging. When she first arrives at an event, she seeks the outliers and shy kids who feel like they don’t fit in.
“I recognize them because that was me. I approach them first before I interact with the other kids and I try to talk to them, relate to them, and personally invite them to join in. The child thinks, ‘Wow, Jasmine thought I was cool enough to talk to and be her friend.’ When it’s a kid that talks to you, well cool, you have made a new friend. When it’s another adult, you think they have to do that. But when it’s your HERO right in front of you, it gives you confidence for the rest of your life. I want to give them at least one memory that builds them up to draw on - especially when they need it the most,” Moreno said.
And indeed, there is power in that. In a time when the Department of Justice recently delivered a scathing report about racism in the Davis School District followed by a 10-year-old North Salt Lake child taking her own life due to bullying because of her autism and skin color, teaching simple kindness and acceptance is more important than ever before. Perhaps what we truly need are more princesses and more super heroes to literally save lives.
“I always tell kids when they’re down on themselves...I’ll ask, ‘Are you royal too?’ Of course they will first answer ‘No.’ But then I ask, ‘Are you loyal to your friends and family? Are you kind? Are you brave?’ Are you a good friend? Do you stand up for those who need help?’ And when they can answer ‘yes,’ they realize, ‘I AM royal. I can make a difference,’” Moreno said,
But Moreno said we don’t have to be dressed up in tiaras and capes to lift children up. We just need to accept and love them exactly as they are. If you would like to hire Moreno for your next party or event, visit www.charactersandcrowns.com, www.characterbooking.com, or www.yourfairygodmotherutah.com. Moreno also volunteers as Wonder Woman with the Legacy Initiative Cosplay organization which sends super heroes to children’s hospitals and other events for hope and healing.