Natascia Diaz

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«Natascia Diaz comes by her performing talent naturally: her Puerto Rican father, Justino Diaz, is an opera singer, and her Italian mother, Anna Aragno, was a ballerina before becoming a psychoanalyst.»

Justino Diaz

November 15, 1996

Anita in ' West Side Story' soars, but Tony crashes again

By Kenneth Jones / Special to The Detroit News


Despite its depressing Romeo and Juliet ending, West Side Story is remembered for the hopefulness that runs throughout the masterpiece score by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.

Anticipation, yearning and hope color the best songs that tell the story of urban-jungle lovers who hitch despite their warring, racially divided families: "Something's Coming," "Tonight," "Somewhere," "One Hand, One Heart," and, in not so subtle religious terms, "Maria."

"Say it soft," sings Tony of Maria's name, "and it's almost like praying."

That's hope for you.

At the Detroit Opera House, where the national touring company claimed turf Wednesday night just 14 months after rumbling at the Fisher Theatre, West Side Story again shows us that the hopeful sentiment "maybe tonight," sung by Polish-American street kid Tony, is the shared wish of the entire community of characters.

"Maybe tonight" is roughly the thought of a theatergoer who sat through this tour's early run in September 1996, when the actor playing Tony couldn't quite hit his notes and Natascia A. Diaz was so hot as Anita she scorched your program.

The wonderful Diaz is back, playing with guts and sex, driving into Puerto Rican Maria for taking up with a boy who is not her "own kind." She continues to be a knockout triple-threat actress-singer-dancer.

While Sharen Camille offers a soprano full of feeling and clarity as Maria, Jeremy Koch is a watery, dull tenor who sings Tony as if he's in love with a fire plug. No life.

Tony is no easy feat. Director Alan Johnson does not reinvent Jerome Robbins' original physical staging, which traps Tony in front of the curtain to sing "Something's Coming" and "Maria." A better actor could get away with it -- maybe.

One day, when this show is more removed from Robbins, a new director will let Tony play more freely in an open space, and will find a way to make the "Tonight" quintet as exciting to look at as it is to hear.

Here, that prerumble sequence is another front-of-scrim number sung by terrific singer-dancers who don't dance because the set is being changed behind the drop. Clunky. Very 1959.

The payoff of this revival is the Robbins choreography -- urban jazz ballet full of tension and release; fights tempered with fantasia.

It is still beautifully conceived and danced with ferocity and detail by a smashing ensemble.

Kenneth Jones is a Metro Detroit theater writer and critic.

Theater Review

'West Side Story'

Detroit Opera House.

Continues today through Nov. 24.

Tickets: $22.50-$75. Call (810) 645-6666.

* * 1/2 {Applause}


Copyright 1996, The Detroit News

Published Wednesday, December 11, 1996

It's Jets vs. Sharks: 'West Side Story' hits the mark



Turf wars have hit the streets of New Haven -- well at least on College Street. The Jets and the Sharks square off in the Shubert's revival of the original story of boys in the hood. And once again "West Side Story" manages to makes finger snapping cool and the mambo hot.

This adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet," set in New York City's West Side, reverberates with passion, humor and rhythm as Tony and Maria fall in love despite the cultural divide. From the engaging opening prologue to the surreal "Somewhere," this show is the perfect antidote for Yalies suffering from paper-induced stress disorder -- if only for two and a half hours.

Natascia Diaz brings down the house with an inspired and sassy performance of Bernardo's girlfriend, Anita. Her spicy dancing in "America," coupled with her witty delivery of familiar jokes from the show ("I want to go back to San Juan/I know a boat you can get on -- bye-bye") still manage to elicit hearty laughter. Proving her dramatic prowess, Diaz also pulls off a stirring rendition of "A Boy Like That," when Anita learns that Maria is still seeing the American Tony.

The energetic, fast-paced choreography is faithful to the fancy footwork of the 1961 film version of Leonard Bernstein's and Stephen Sondheim musical. The gymnastics and perfect timing in the fight scenes and the elaborate numbers are alternately breathtaking and touching. "Gee, officer Krupke," a humorous song explaining why the Jets are "punks" left the audience in stitches, while expressing the sad economic realities of New York underclass.

The leads, Jeremy Koch and Sharen Camille plays the saccharine couple who fall in love at first sight. As Clueless' Cher would say, their scenes gave us a "toothache," but when Maria looks into Tony eyes and says "Te adoro Anton," one knows she means it. Maria's naivete comes through in Camille's act two opening "I feel pretty." As she bounces on her bed cradling a rose in her left hand and waving her right as if she were Miss America, the audience, privy to the rumble that has taken her brother's life, cannot wholeheartedly share her happiness knowing of the heartbreak to come.

West Side Story, although a little pricey, is a must see. We give it four snaps and a "daddy-o!"

West Side Story is playing at the Shubert until Dec. 22. Balcony seats start at $38.




Natascia A Diaz (Yolanda) Born to the theatre family of opera singer Justino Diaz and ballerina Anna Aragno, Natascia has performed professionally since she was nine. Trained at school of American Ballet, she recieved her B.F.A. with honors from Carnegie Mellon and has performed regionally, Off-Broadway, and in the Tony winner Carousel. Most recently, she appeared in HBO's "DaVinci" special after recieving accolades in the national press and Chicago's prestigious Jeff Award for her stellar performance as Anita in West Side Story.

Natascia A. Dias: Cecelia in "Leonardo: A Dream of Flight"


Dancer-actress Natascia Diaz brings her multifaceted talents to play in deftly balancing her role as Il Moro's companion and Leonardo's confidante.

"Cecelia's life is comfortable, if not a bit regimented, but she's also privy to the Duke's grave concerns," says Diaz. "On the other hand, she would normally take it for granted that the Duke's artist would paint her, but she actually finds herself developing a very real connection with this extraordinary genius, Leonardo, who is struggling with a whole different set of problems. It was a very interesting part to play--and I loved it."

Natascia Diaz comes by her performing talent naturally: her Puerto Rican father, Justino Diaz, is an opera singer, and her Italian mother, Anna Aragno, was a ballerina before becoming a psychoanalyst. A first-generation American, she lovingly recalls "going backstage with my dad and touring with my mom," and at age three started taking ballet lessons herself. "I always wanted to dance," she says of her years studying at the School of American Ballet, the typical route to the New York City Ballet, "but it took me longer to realize that I also wanted to sing and act, and that maybe I'd be better expressing myself in ways other than just ballet." A key learning experience for Diaz had been Bel Voir Terrace, a Massachussets summer camp for the arts she began attending at age nine: "It was like college for young people: I did ballet, jazz, theatre, musicals, piano lessons." After high school, she entered the acting program at Carnegie-Mellon University, where a showcase production caught the eye of a casting agent for the daytime soap Another World. Roles on-stage in A My Name is Alice and The Country Wife soon followed, as did the shortlived Fox-TV series House of Buggin', starring John Lequizamo. "It was hyper-ridiculous stuff, but it was fun," she says. For the most part, though, she spent the early 1990s based in hit musicals like Carousel in New York, or touring in the likes of Man of La Mancha, Sweeney Todd and 42nd Street.

Cast as Anita in the North American tour of West Side Story, she happened to play Toronto, where producer David Devine caught her performance and invited her to audition for the role of Cecelia in Leonardo: A Dream of Flight. "I felt privileged to be asked," she said--and delighted when she won the role, traveled to Italy and took direction from Allan King. "I'm so lucky. This was the biggest break I've ever had. There aren't a lot of opportunities to play in quality work like this. People see me as Anita, so this was my chance to prove to myself--and David Devine, who took a gamble on me--that I am indeed an actress. I was in awe watching Brenda Bazinet, working with Brent Carver and Cedric Smith, so in a way I felt lucky that I could hide, sometimes, in the demureness of Cecelia."

After wrapping her role in Italy, Diaz rejoined the West Side Story tour with renewed energy, with the intention of accompanying the show as far as Broadway. Though she has spent much of her career thus far on the road, she likes to call New York home.