Mikayla Renfrow had just finished up a week-long European vacation and was set to return Tuesday to her ensemble track in Disney's Aladdin on Broadway. But, as sometimes happens, her flight was delayed. Stage management understood. They've been there before. They would put another actor in Renfrow's track for the evening and see her on stage the next day.
However, about four hours into her flight, she received a text: "Mikayla...please send an updated eta when you can. I may need you for Jasmine tonight." And that's when the adventure really started. It turned out that current lead Sonya Balsara had taken ill and Renfrow was the only cover available for that evening's performance.
The Delta Air Lines flight was set to land at about 5 PM at JFK. It was a 7 PM curtain. No way would she make it, right? WRONG.
Renfrow's boyfriend, performer Ben Davis, was on the flight with her and suggested they at least see if she could be first off the flight so she can try to make it to the theatre. After a quick chat with the flight attendant, they brought Renfrow to the front of the plane to see what could be done. The flight attendant, Leisha, was on the phone with the pilot. "I was shocked that they cared," recalls Renfrow, still kind of reeling from the whole experience almost a week later.
Everyone jumped into action. The pilot was able to secure a gate closer to customs. Leisha moved Renfrow to the single available seat in first class (sorry, Ben!) and gave her a huge bottle of water to stay hydrated and tried to get her to take a nap. "I wasn't able to fall asleep because I was so pumped with, 'What the heck is going on,'" she tells Playbill.
They then asked if she knew about Blade. "I'm a normal person," jokes Refrow. "I have no idea what that is." Blade is basically Uber for helicopters and it would get her from JFK to Manhattan in only seven minutes. It was really the only way she would make it to the theatre on time, they told her. So, Aladdin's stage management hopped in and OK-ed the transport (a helicopter ride cost $175).
With that all squared away, all Refrow could do was wait for the plane to land. In the meantime, pilot came out to meet her and cheer her on. He told her he was inspired by her living her dream and just wanted to support her.
When the plane landed, the Delta staff rushed Renfrow to the front of the customs line, got her through and to a car, which then took her to Blade. She was one minute late, but they'd called ahead and the helicopter waited for her. She landed at Hudson Yards seven minutes later, ran from 12th Avenue to 7th Avenue to a 1 train—in true Manhattan fashion, there were no taxis on 12th Avenue. She got to the theatre a half hour before curtain.
Renfrow had only performed Jasmine around 10 times. And after a week's vacation, she was still trying to refresh her memory on her own ensemble track. Jasmine was a whole other challenge. "There were a lot of moments during that show where I was just like, 'I'm going to open my mouth and hope the right thing comes out,'" she recalls. She credits Aladdin star Michael Maliakel and the company with giving her a lot of support that night.
"It was just special moment after special moment after special moment," she says.
But perhaps the most special moment of all: After the show, when Leisha met Mikayla backstage. She had confided in Renfrow earlier on the flight that she'd had a bad week, but this adventure was cheering her up. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. I have to be there to see you as Jasmine," Leisha told Renfrow.
And she did. Leisha, too, came straight from the flight—still in uniform, dragging her suitcase along. The show had comped her a ticket for her troubles.
Speaking of suitcases, boyfriend Ben Davis stayed behind at the airport, and gathered Renfrow's luggage for her and went to get the dog so they could greet her when she finally returned home. He did encourage her to document every step of the experience, because "you're gonna tell people this story and they're not gonna believe you."
But it happened! See her proof in the Instagram video below!