Bessy Reyna/ CTLatinoNews.com
I met Janet Dacal at a Gala in honor of the great actress, singer and dancer Chita Rivera in a program sponsored by Goodspeed Musicals. A few minutes into our conversation Janet said “Are you Cuban?” I had to laugh because as hard as I try to have a “neutral” accent when I speak Spanish, she discovered right away the underlying rhythms of my speech. As luck would have it, we had also been assigned to the same table, this gave us an opportunity to continue our conversation and get to know her better during dinner. Within minutes Janet was inviting us to join the cast of Bye, Bye Birdie at her apartment for the night when she was to cook arroz con pollo. Too bad we had to miss it, but this generous gesture exemplifies how warm and nice she is as a person, even to people like us, whom she had just met.
We were already thinking the world of her even before we saw her perform the number “Spanish Rose” from Birdie, which had been performed by Chita Rivera when she played the character of Rose Alvarez in the original production in New York. When the easy-going Janet whom, just a few minutes before had been sitting at our table, was transformed on stage into a seductive singer and dancer charming the audience at the gala.
Since that first encounter we have had the opportunity to see the play Bye, Bye Birdie twice and to say hola briefly to her after each show. Last week, as I was introducing her to friends and talking for a few minutes, Rhett Guter, who plays Birdie walked by. He stopped and asked “Is that your family?” to which Janet replied “We are Latinos, we are all family” You get the idea of how she embraces her ancestry and culture.
Janet Dacal is a versatile actress and singer who has performed in many important productions, including Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In The Heights”, in “Wonderland” which is a modern day version of “Alice in Wonderland” and many others. Bill Hirschman, reviewing the play “The Last Five Years” in which Janet had the lead, wrote that the reason to see that play was “the vibrant, bravura performance by former Miamian and current Broadway actress Janet Dacal.”
It is that same bravura that she brings to the role of Rose Alvarez, the secretary who is in love with Albert Peterson, her boss and dreams of a future together.
I am very grateful to Elise Hale, Public Relations Manager at Goodspeed Musicals for arranging this interview.
THE MANY TALENTS OF JANET DACAL
BESSY REYNA: Where are your parents from? Did they speak Spanish at home?
JD: My parents are Cubans; they sacrificed everything so their children could have a better life. I was born in Los Angeles, CA and they always insisted on the importance of learning the language and to know our culture. We had dinners together every night. Papi insisted that food and having a meal together was sacred. At the table we only spoke Spanish. I have two brothers and if we started speaking English he would order “ESPAÑOL!” I’m eternally grateful they did that.
BR: When did you become interested in acting/singing/dancing?
JD: There was always all kinds of music playing in my home. In my early childhood, I would dance around with a spiral brush as a make-shift microphone. Mami quickly recognized my interest and registered me at the local dance studio. That was it. While in Middle School, I attended the school for the Performing Arts, and when we moved to Miami the High School for Performing Arts. My parents have always been very supportive.
BR: Your first play or concert you participated in? Memories about it?
JD: Oh gosh, my first show was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I played Snow White. I remember the audition. My elementary school teacher in charge of the drama department, Mr. Pedraja, hands me the audition lines and in the scene description it read “sob”. I wasn’t familiar with the term “sob,” so when I went up to audition he says,”Sob, SOB!!”…I looked at him with a blank stare. Then he yelled “CRY!.” It didn’t take much, tears welled up and I got the part.
BR: Do you have a Favorite composer, music?
JD: My favorite musical is “Once On This Island”. I did it in high school. The score always brings me joy and makes me want to dance.
BR: You have participated in plays on Broadway like In The Heights (2008), Wonderland (2011), Good Vibrations, (2005) and now at Goodspeed in Birdie…do you have a favorite one? What about a favorite theater?
JD: Each production has been special for different reasons. I’ve learned wonderful things and hard lessons from each experience.
BR I read you were involved in the soundtrack in a movie with Keanu Reeves, and performed with Alvarez Orchestra.You also worked with Gloria and Emilio Estefan at their recording studio, all this aside from your work in the theater; do you have a preference?
JD: My involvement with Exposed, the Keanu film, had nothing to do with acting. I sang on the soundtrack. The composer, Carlos Jose Alvarez, wanted to stress the lead actress’ presence with a female voice. I hadn’t ever recorded vocals for a project in that capacity. It was fascinating to see how the score really colored and helped support the story telling.
BR: You have a lovely CD of Cuban lullabies how did that come about?
JD: These are the lullabies my mother, and grandmother, would sing to me and I wanted to preserve them in a new realm. The production of the album emphasizes a more contemporary sound while keeping the integrity of their original flavor. There’s a greater vision for the lullaby series, LUNACUNA.
The idea is that it be a collection of the most well-known lullabies from around the world. The songs, in their arrangement feature the musicality particular to each country. (i.e. Cuba: Son; Spain: Flamenco; Mexico: Mariachi; Brazil: Bossa-Nova, etc)
There aren’t any collections featuring lullabies arranged in a contemporary, sophisticated style. This collection preserves the songs and literature, making them available in one place. It also has an educational element, featuring the musical genres particular to each country in their original languages and translated into English. The project is on hold due to funding. What do you think, good idea? Should there be a KICKSTARTER Campaign?
BR: Aside from doing Birdie which has two shows a day most days, you also teach Voice on Monday, one of your two days off. What do you do to keep up your energy??
JD: SLEEP!! It’s everything, it’s what restores my mind, body and voice most effectively. I take a nap between most shows.
BR: What do you do for fun?
JD: Salsa dance, the Cuban roots run deep. Thanks for this Bessy! We’ll find a time to connect before I go, I’m looking forward to it.
BR: Gracias for being so generous with your time! Wishing you continued success.
Those of you interested in reading more about her can visit http://www.broadwayworld.com/people/Janet–Dacal