DIVA TALK: Chatting With Broadway and Chess Star Natascia Diaz

By Andrew Gans
27 Jul 2012

Question: As you're rehearsing, are you feeling more comfortable with the score or…?
Diaz: Chris' lens is so specific, and had we more time, we would really have time to explore the wonderful perception that he has of these moments that are very clear—they're very clear, they're very bold. And, it's almost Chekhovian… What I do is I have him talk into a tape, so I can hear him in lieu—instead of rehearsal time—I have him going over every lyric to hook it into what exactly it means… I have him speak about each phrase of the show and what it means because I've been listening to these lyrics—"Someone else's lifetime…"—they could be generalized. These ideas—they're not that specific, and they could be generalized, and I really pressed him about, "So what does she mean by this? What does this mean?" And, he elucidates it really, really specifically and very strongly, so whether I can pull it off to the depth that he understands without any rehearsal, I don't know! [Laughs.] But I am certainly going to try, and I think the way that I come off, I have a very European feel… And, Bob and I and Tamra and Drew shared a very special kind of journey with Jacques Brel, and we sort of have lived in this epic place—a very European-like place. We're going to try to do justice to Chris' very specific, emotional vision of the emotional beats of every single line. I mean, he doesn't let one line go untranslated. He doesn't leave one idea left. He says, "This is what's happening here. This is what you really mean, so this has to really come through that line." And, I'm finding that is what is hooking me in more than anything… Yes, it is a monstrous score. It's like a tidal wave. And, me, who's like this singer-dancer-actor person, especially coming from a world like Chicago just two minutes ago, this is a totally different world. I'm finding that through his understanding—through his deep understanding—of what is the emotional interplay that that is what is hooking me in, and that is what I am finding resonates with me. So that will serve me in as much as it can in this little amount of time. I don't have forever. As a matter of fact, I have one run-through, so I hope that everything he has given me will come through as much as possible. If not, I think that just structurally, you'll be able to feel a difference apparently… This is what I'm told. The people who know Chess will be able to see very clearly what he has changed and what he is suggesting, and they will get it through a casting of these roles that I think has not happened before from what I understand. I don't really know. I know that Julia Murney and Judy Kuhn are incredible actresses in their own right. I don't know what kind of directors they had. I don't know if they have the same information that Chris has. I'm huge fans of theirs, so I'm trying to do what I am told by him, and I am going to try and give it as much fullness as I can with as little time to prepare.

Natascia Diaz with Patti Murin in Chicago
photo by Larry Pry/The Muny

Question: You mentioned Chicago. What was your experience like working at the Muny? Had you performed there before?
Diaz: I had. I had. I did West Side there, and it was glorious. [Executive producer] Mike Isaacson is—I don't know—like a walking angel, living, breathing angel. The generosity with which he offered me this role without an audition, having remembered my performance there, is exciting. The support at rehearsals. He would just get verklempt because he was so excited that, as he explained it to me, he was able to do things his way. And, that's what's, apparently for him, was a thrilling prospect of taking over the Muny position. He could have a place where he could do things as his dream. And, that I was a part of that dream is incredibly touching and just a big honor, and I think it came out spectacularly. And, for me, my whole career I wanted to do that part and inhabit that show, really. It almost didn't matter what part… I feel like "anything Chita does, I will do later!" [Laughs.] It just seems like we seem to resonate in these roles. She blazoned a path that resonates with me, so it seemed to make sense. I can finally check it off the list. Of course, I would love to do it in New York… The fact that I've sung "All That Jazz"—once you've really done it, it's thrilling. It's beyond thrilling! It's no longer this abstract concept in my mind. [Laughs.]

Question: When you look back on all the different roles you've played, do you have a favorite theatrical experience at this point?
Diaz: Well, Anita, for me, is just beautiful. I learned how to do it. It took me about seven years, but I worked at it. I learned how to do it—to do it without harshness, without pushing. To do it without acting bitchy. She's proud, and she's feminine. And, the fact that I got to work on it with Jerome Robbins, even for the short weeks that I did, was unspeakable. He taught me to not push—"Don't dance too hard. It's elegant. You're elegant. You're feminine." And, I took that with me. The women and the people that I got to play with. To me, she has her own version of that speech at the end, when she gets up off the floor from the taunting. It's like she sees what Bernardo has seen for the first time. And, that's the death of her innocence. America is no longer the beautiful place she thought. And, to me, that loss of innocence was not only palpable, but really sad, really epic and imminently playable, and that was what was an important thing to me. It was an archetype. It was an archetypal thing for an immigrant to face—that fall from innocence, where it's not such a great place. They hate you here. And, to look into someone's eyes, who is looking at you with so much hate, it's arresting.