Actress and singer Janet Dacal, who played Stanford student Nina Rosario in the Tony Award®-winning musical In the Heights, which finished its 1,184-performance run in January 2011, created the role of Alice in Gregory Boyd, Jack Murphy, and Frank Wildhorn’s new musical, Wonderland.
Dacal was born and grew up in Los Angeles, though her parents are natives of Cuba, and she now calls Miami home. The youngest of four children, she was the family ham from an early age: “When I was four, I would grab a brush and pretend to sing songs into a microphone . . . they loved to see me dance around and make people laugh.” When Janet finished high school, the family moved to Miami and she got a job in the production department of the recording studio of Emilio and Gloria Estefan. Soon she was singing backup vocals for Estefan, Jon Secada, and Luis Enrique, on tour as well as at home in Miami.
In the cast of the Miami production of Four Guys Named José, Janet Dacal fell in love with the theatre. She decided to make her way to New York, and as luck would have it, she scored at her first New York audition. It was for In the Heights, but it would be some time before that show reached Broadway. Her Broadway debut was in the ill-fated Beach Boys musical Good Vibrations (2005), which lasted a scant three months.
In February 2007, In the Heights, with Dacal in the role of Carla the airhead assistant beautician, opened off-Broadway and ran for five months. It was deluged with awards: the 2007 Obie Awards for Music and Choreography (music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda; choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler), the Clarence Derwent Award and Theatre World Award for Miranda, two Outer Critics Circle Awards (Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical; Outstanding Choreography) and two nominations (director and composer), two Lucille Lortel Awards, and nine nominations for Drama Desk Awards. Of these nine nominations, two emerged as winners: the choreographer, and, what is most impressive, the entire cast as the year’s Outstanding Ensemble, of which of course Dacal was a part.
In the Heights moved to Broadway in February of the following year. For its Broadway run, it won Tony Awards® for Best Musical, Best Original Score Written for the Theatre, Best Choreography, and Best Orchestrations, an armload of nine other Tony® nominations, and a nomination for a Pulitzer Prize. The cast recording won a Grammy. Dacal stayed in the role of Carla until 2009, when she left to star in the premiere of Frank Wildhorn’s Wonderland: Alice’s New Musical Adventure in Tampa at The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. Wonderland then moved to the Alley Theatre in Houston, where Janet Dacal received glowing notices.
She returned to the cast of In the Heights in February 2010, but not as Carla. She now played a more prominent character, Nina Rosario. She left the show for good in August, to return to Wonderland, which had another run in Tampa in January 2011. Wonderland moved to the Marquis Theatre on Broadway, where it open(s) April 17.
Janet Dacal has made several other appearances in between all these engagements: in a Musicals Tonight! concert in New York, at a Young People’s Chorus fundraising gala called Dreamer at Lincoln Center, and singing the National Anthem at the 2011 Outback Bowl. Off-Broadway and in regional venues she has played in Byzantium, Señor Discretion Himself (Arena Stage), Five Course Love (a Carbonell nomination), Annie, and others (Actors Playhouse).
– Lucy E. Cross