By Brian Scott Lipton
While Janet Dacal may not be a household name, theatergoers around the country certainly know her name – from starring in such Broadway shows as In The Heights, Wonderland and Prince of Broadway to the recently aborted national tour of The Band’s Visit. Now, she’s bringing the music of her Latin heritage to everyone’s home with her spectacular CD, “My Standards.” TheaterPizzazz recently spoke to Dacal about the CD and her stage career.
Q: This is one of the most feel-good CDs I’ve ever heard, which we really need right now. Was that intentional?
JD: I will say it certainly is reflective of Latin culture, especially the use of the drums and the rhythm section. It’s basically the music I grew up listening to and then making it my own with a Latin sound. I grew up surrounded by all sorts of music, especially lots of Cuban singers and huge Latin orchestras. And, of course, Celia Cruz was very big in my home. But I also listened to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and lots of other iconic vocalists, and their sensibilities influenced the way that I sing. So all of that is sprinkled throughout the album. It’s a true reflection of who I am.
Q: But there are no theater songs on CD? Why?
JD: I am definitely a musical theater geek, so it wasn’t intentional not to sing theater music on the CD. As I said, these songs were just part of my musical make-up that I wanted to put out. But I have to admit, like a lot of people in theater, I don’t like getting pinned into one category.
Q: Unfortunately, you only got to spend a little time touring the company as Dina in The Band’s Visit. What can you tell me about the experience?
JD: People were really responding to the show in a timely and beautiful way, especially given our current circumstances, because the story is not only poignant, but relevant. Dina is such a powerhouse as a person; she reminds me of many of the strong, resilient women in my life. In particular, she reminds me of my mother who came here from Cuba and learned how to live and assimilate to being in the US. Most of all, Dina is someone who holds on to hope, and I think we can all relate to that right now.
Q: You not only had to follow in the footsteps of Katrina Lenk and Chilina Kennedy, but you acted opposite Sasson Gabbay, who played the leading male role in the movie as well as on Broadway and on tour. Were you able to make the part of Dina your own?
JD: One of the great things about this production is that our producers allowed everybody to brings themselves to the role. So, like Katrina and Chilina, I did my best to make the character of Dina authentic to me. I am so grateful to have that freedom, because we create stress within ourselves when it’s such a coveted role and having that permission let me just find myself. As for Sasson, he is wonderful. Because he’s such an open and seasoned actor, and he had such a special trajectory with this part, he was incredibly willing to make it our own show. Being able to play opposite him every night was a dream come true.
Q: You were equally blessed to work with the late Hal Prince on Prince of Broadway? What was that like?
JD: Hal was very involved and very hands-on as a director, but the most memorable time the cast had was when we were listening to him tell his stories; we were like kids in grade school. And while it was an honor to just be in the ensemble, my highlight was singing the songs from Evita. I am not always able to play a Latin woman onstage! And to sing all those songs with Jason Robert Brown’s gorgeous arrangements was amazing.
Q: You just brought up that you don’t always get to play Latin women, but you are playing an Israeli Jew in The Band’s Visit? Do you think all casting needs to be culturally specific?
JD: Obviously, it’s a delicate question. Ultimately, though, I do believe in casting whoever is best for the role in a particular production. And because we have such a great pool of Latin talent, I think they – and everyone — should have the opportunity to show their skills, instead of pitting one group against another.
Q: When live theater comes back, is there a role you’d like to tackle?
JD: I’ve been lucky to mostly originate roles and that’s my favorite thing to do as a creative person. So instead of roles, there are some songwriters I would love to work with, especially Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen) and Robert and Kristin Andersen-Lopez (Frozen). I think the best thing about theater is you get to work with your heroes!