DIVA TALK: Chatting With Broadway and Chess Star Natascia Diaz

By Andrew Gans
27 Jul 2012

Question: Why was that?
Diaz: I was trepidatious because I didn't know Chess. I had never had any ambition to do it. Lots of performers—we gravitate towards albums and parts that [we're] interested in. And, Chess was never anything that I was curious about or knew anything about, and I didn't feel like I was missing anything. I just knew that it was a very intricate, sort of opera kind of musical theatre-sound, and everybody sang really high and really loud. And, that's not what I do, so I just never had any curiosity towards it.

Question: What made you accept the role? What changed your mind?
Diaz: Well, Chris asking me to do this changed my mind—and he really had to beg me—because I see how people have been receiving Elena Roger—and I have not seen Evita—but once somebody puts an iconic spin on a role like that, it's pretty hard to wrestle it away. And, Chris' whole point, I think—again, I don't want to speak for him—he wants to try a Florence that doesn't sing really loud and really high. He doesn't think it's necessary. He thinks that's part of the reason, in his opinion, that the story has gotten lost. He wants to try what I would bring to the material. And, of course, when he spoke to me, I went right to YouTube and [thought], "Oh my God. I'm not doing this. I can't do this!" [Laughs.] And, he said, "Yes, you can." He said, "We've had too many Florences that screech and sing very loudly through the entire thing." He said, "I really want to try something different. I want to try an approach where the acting and the story is much more prevalent." And, I said, "With me, that's what you're going to get because I don't belt above a D or an E." [Laughs.] "That's not what I do!" And, he said, "No, but I've seen you on stage." And, he has. He's seen me in quite a few things… I consider myself to be a singing actor. I don't pretend to play in the same ballpark as Julia Murney and as Idina [Menzel]. I was at that Chess concert, directed by my dear friend Peter Flynn, and it blew my socks off! That being said, this gentleman came to me completely separate and wanted to enlist me towards realizing his idea about how to try this and how to present this.

Natascia Diaz in Jacques Brel
Photo by Carol Rosegg
Question: Have you started rehearsals or have you started working on the score yet?
Diaz: [Laughs.] Have I ever! I started a month ago because I knew I had a lot of projects going on this summer, and I really, I mean, did not know it… at all! Not the story… I knew "Someone Else's Story," maybe two of the iconic songs, but that's about it. Never having been interested in trying it, there was nothing that drew me to it. So we had a series of intensive rehearsals—three-hour blocks—where I would just sit there and learn everything and implement the changes that Chris wants to try in doing what he believes will clarify and anchor the emotional journeys more clearly and more strongly. And, apparently, I guess he thinks that putting it in my hands—because I just don't have that kind of an instrument—that it will not be upstaged by any high, belty notes. I just don't sing like that.

Question: As you've been working on the part, what have you discovered about either the score or the character? How do you feel about it now?
Diaz: Well, the feeling of trepidation [remains]. Chita Rivera never had to sing Chess! [Laughs.] It's like, "Why can't I just do stuff that I want to do that I can hit it out of the ballpark?" I always find myself being asked to do things that are way outside of my comfort zone, but they're presented to me in such a way that I sort of can't refuse. This happened with me with Man of La Mancha. They said, "We want to bring you in for Aldonza." I was like, "Are you kidding? You need a woman with big boobs and a huge voice to blow a hole in the wall, and that's not me. No, I'm not coming in." And, they said, "You better come in!" [Laughs.]… I was like, "Okay. I don't understand why." And, I did. I came in, and they had me sing through the stuff, and they offered it to me. And, I fought it all the way. I was so afraid of it that I said, "Okay, well look—if I take this job, you have to pay for my voice lessons because I've never had enough lessons to be able to support it," and they did. They paid for my voice lessons! [Laughs.] I wanted to dignify it. I didn't want to be like, "Here I am." Out of all of the women in New York City who I thought were a shoe-in for the kind of voice and the kind of emotional thing that it was, they wanted me. Either you're going to act out of fear and say, "No, I can't do it," or you're going to try. So I tried, and I do my best… Cut to me spitting [onstage] at Brian Stokes Mitchell. [Laughs.] You know what I mean? And, enjoying these amazing moments! Look, every performer has their things that they're insecure about, and of all of my three skills, singing to me is the last. First, I'm an actor, then I'm a dancer, and then I'm a singer. So singing, to me, is always the thing that is the most mystifying and the most terrifying. Now, there are scores and there are places in my voice that scare me less… I've grown to accept my instrument the way it is and try to enjoy it enough to let it come out. And, apparently, people seem to like it. [Laughs.] I'm just going with it. Again, you want to work, you find yourself being asked to do things like this—with your friends—for a very good cause. Either you're going to, like I said, act out of fear and don't challenge yourself or you're going to try because it's for a really good cause.