For centuries, book lovers have imagined romantic rendezvous with literary hunks. Arielle Jacobs and Julia Murney, the stars of the new Off-Broadway musical Between the Lines, get it. Murney admits to a young love for The Outsiders, while Jacobs was drawn to fantasy adventures, like Hunger Games and Harry Potter—all of which boast crush-worthy protagonists.
The musical, based on the young-adult novel of the same name by mother-daughter duo Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer and adapted by Timothy Allen McDonald, channels that dream of every bookish mega fan. The story follows a teenage girl, Delilah, and her adventure into the fictional world of her favorite fairytale through her love for its dreamy prince, Prince Oliver. (Speaking of best-selling beaus, songwriters Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson even sneak in an ode to Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy.)
What starts as a fun, giddy musical about teenage aspirations and heartthrobs transforms into a reality check—Delilah’s life is not all that great: her dad left the family, her mom (whenever she’s actually around) neglects her feelings, and her new classmates are bullies. Jacobs has been on board since the show’s 2017 world premiere at Kansas City Rep, and she is now bringing Delilah to life at the Off-Broadway's Tony Kiser Theatre, drawn to the show through a personal connection.
"I did not have a great middle school experience. I was depressed and I felt bullied by the people around me," Jacobs says. "Going on the journey from feeling like you do not belong to realizing that you have the power to live the life you want is a message that I love."
The show takes place in two worlds: Delilah’s reality and the magical kingdom that only exists in the universe of the children’s fairytale. Murney gets the best of both worlds, joining the cast as two characters, Grace (Delilah’s mom) and Queen Maureen. “I have played lots of beleaguered mothers at this point, but in this show, I get my beleaguered mother and I also get to be this ridiculous queen.”
As her single-mother character struggles with her career change and messy divorce, Murney finds it inspiring to escape the madness through her fairytale alter ego. "Sometimes when you live in a dark place for the whole time in a show, it gets a little weird. How do you scrub that off? Getting to flip back and forth [between characters] keeps me out of a dark space completely.”
Jacobs echoes the sentiment, reflecting on her journey in the fictional universe. Calling herself an "imagination-based performer," she equates the fairytale aspects of the musical to "being taken on a ride." The actor keeps her character grounded in the fairytale world through a notable decision made during Delilah’s physical princess transformation: "I started workshops so many years ago, and I remember, on the first day, I brought these glasses, and I was like, 'I think Delilah wears glasses.' I bought them on St. Mark's Place." The teenage character continues to wear her glasses with her new sparkly gown and slippers in the fairytale realm. "Princesses can have glasses. You don't need to have perfect vision to be a princess."
Throughout the show, Delilah works to change the fairytale and grant Prince Oliver his dream ending, which coincidentally involves the two of them getting married. But as the narration grows convoluted, Delilah realizes that it’s her real story that needs changing. "No matter how old you are, you remember what it was like to be treated in a way you didn't want to be treated, or to feel stuck and like you wanted to escape your life," says Jacobs.
"When I'm telling the story as Delilah, I'm talking to all ages. I'm talking to young adults, parents, and grandparents. Especially now, because of where we've been these last two years, people of all ages are feeling like they want to change the world, and we're all feeling bogged down. This story is a gateway for people to see what's possible for them in their lives."
Murney continues, "One of the things I really appreciate about this show is its many layers. It's also just so sweet and light. I am absolutely in the market for shows that are intense and darker, that's my cuppa for sure. But there's space for both, and this show makes space in such a clever manner."
She says, "It's joyful, and it's heartwarming. It has dark moments in the story, but overall, by the end, you just feel happy."