Natascia Diaz on ‘Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris’ at MetroStage by Joel Markowitz

Here is Part One of interviews with the cast of MetroStage’s Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. To begin our series, here is the chanteuse magnifique – Natascia Diaz!

Joel: Why did you want to be part of the MetroStage production of Jacques Brel…?

Natascia: After performing this beautiful material at the Zipper Off- Broadway, and the few shows I have worked on produced by Carolyn at MetroStage, I brought the 2006 production to her attention, thinking she might be interested in it. We went together and sat at the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library in NY and watched the gorgeous archival video of our Off-Broadway production…and we just sat there and wept. And the seed took root. This was about 3 years ago.

Natascia Diaz. Photo by Christopher Banks.

What is so unique about his music and lyrics?

They are meditative poems on their subjects. Their structure is not a necessarily classic song structure, but Brel has been quoted himself as saying these are not poems. They are meant to be sung. But they are very wordy, with one non-sequitor image after another, many images per square inch. There aren’t a lot of long held notes to favor instead the lyric and image heavy engine that fuels them. Nonetheless, the melodies are sweeping and range in style from Vaudevillian to operatic.

What did you learn about Jacques Brel that you didn’t know before appearing in this production?

I did not know that “Marieke” was the only song in which he incorporated his native language of Flemish. I did not know that “My Childhood,” in it’s literal French translation, is actually a very angry song about being in a childhood cheated by the shadow of war.

What was the best advice Director Serge Seiden gave you about performing your songs and what did he tell you was his ‘vision’ for this production?

I had not met Serge yet in my journey performing in DC. From the beginning, he showed an uncanny deep understanding of the essential nature of how to best inhabit these songs, that for me, having been directed already in this material, was different and fascinating. His guidance shed new light on material I was very familiar with. Collaborating with Serge is the best of everything you dream about being an actor.

Have you appeared in other productions of Jacques Brel? How this production different from the other productions you have appeared in. Did you sing different solos there than what you are performing here?

In the 2006 production, Gordon Greenberg had a very (amazing) specific and graceful concept that we inhabited…four archtypal characters; the Brel figure (Bob Cuccioli) the angry young man (Rodney Hicks) the Piaf type, chanteuse (Gay Marshall) and the lost waif (me). My track in that show represented youth that was newly facing disillusion in life. The deliniation of songs for MetroStage is something that Serge and I discussed and hashed out for awhile, and we changed the order of the songs and even reassigned some of them. I came into this less interested in singing the songs I sang in our year-long run Off-Broadway, and was eager to explore different ones in the show. The only two songs I perform at MetroStage that I did in the Off-Broadway show are “Old Folks” and “My Death.”

Tell me about your solos and what personal experiences you bring every time you perform these songs that help you convey the emotions and stories of these songs.

I will use “Old Folks” and “My Death.” Since I was going to be singing these well trodden journeys again here, I was looking forward to performing them outside of thedelineations of the “character” I was in the 2006 version. That girl was Ophelia-like; wounded and wide eyed. The “character” I am now allows for more irony…more self-knowlege…more shrewdness and bite. The character I have fashioned on this journey of songs I have now starts off with all the bravado of Brel’s showmanship, with boots and military jacket…and throughout the course of the evening, this gets stripped away ending with the plea “Marieke” – barefooted and bare souled…and has to be invited back from despair by the simple observation of Bayla’s character…by being reminded that life is a “Carousel.”

 If you could sing a solo that someone else sings in the show, what would it be and why would you like to sing it?

I am living all the possibilities I wanted to at this time…however, the most interesting story to most people is that “The Bulls” is normally sung by a man, in this case, the “Sam” track. After listening to it for a year at the Zipper, I felt a pull to it and wanted to try it on, with a Spanish flair, and even incorporate the “Carmen” moment, which is actually never sung…but I do.

You have had a very busy year on the stage. What were your two favorite shows and roles and why?

First Brother Russia at Signature Theatre: Anastasia…to play a young woman of such poise, grace and quiet dignity was unspeakably beautiful for me. Eric Schaeffer guided me so gracefully through realizing her in this production, and John and Dana are incomparable as glorious and daring and sexy and epic storytellers. For me to play an ingenue that had such depth and poetry was an oppprtunity to finally use and share these qualities in myself that someone with my “type” doesn’t usually get the chance to showcase. It is, however, my dream…I always really just wanted to be in a corset running through a field…lol.

Then, the opposite side of the spectrum, Chicago! Finally. Velma Kelly. Without an audition. I still am not over that. And John Kander came and was there to share it with me. Unbelievable. My next notch in my “Chita” list. lol. It was…Transcendant. To listen to that overture, then come out in front of 11,000 people at The St. Louis Muny and sing “All That Jazz”…I can’t. I just can’t describe. And to look up at the full moon in the sky as Patti Murin (Roxie) and I sang…”but oh it’s heaven nowadays”??? WHAT.

What’s next for you on the stage after this production closes?

I am waiting to hear about a production in DC this winter. Fingers crossed.

The cast of ‘Jacques Brel..’: Natascia Diaza, Sam Ludwig, Bobby Smith, and Bayla Whitten. Photo by Christopher Banks.

What do you want audiences to take with them when they leave MetroStage after seeing all of you perform Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris?

I hope they take away a renewed sense of awareness about what it is to be alive…an awakened sense of empathy towards other people and their stories…and a bittersweet appreciation of how fleeting this all is.

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris plays through October 21, 2012 at MetroStage – 1201 North Royal Street, in Alexandria, VA. Purchase tickets by calling 1-800-494-8497, or order them online.

Read Julia L. Exline’s review of Jacques Brel on DCMTA.

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.


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