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Exclusive Interview with the cast of In the Heights at the Sydney Opera House

In the Heights comes to the Opera House from July 20 – August 25


With the recently announced cast of In the Heights at the Sydney Opera House, Theatre Thoughts sat down with cast members Olivia Dacal and Lena Cruz to discuss the upcoming Lin-Manuel Miranda penned return.


By Justin Clarke


The 19-strong cast of irrepressible voices bringing In the Heights to Sydney Opera House this winter has assembled in the rehearsal room, ahead of the season opening on 20 July. We sat down with Olivia Dacal who is bringing to life the young star of the Rosario family, Nina, as well as Lena Cruz who will be bringing to life the matriarchal Abuela Claudia in the Sydney Opera House season return.


Headshot: Olivia Ducal (she/her). Supplied
Headshot: Olivia Ducal (she/her). Supplied

Olivia is a Melbourne-raised Latina singer-songwriter/producer, embracing diverse genres like RnB, Jazz, Soul, and Indie/Alternative pop. Currently, she is pursuing studies in Music Production and Film scoring at Berklee in the USA on a scholarship and is gearing up for a career as an Independent Artist, Film Composer, and Producer.


Lena is an accomplished actor and singer with an impressive range of experience in theatre and on screen. Her musical theatre highlights include Into the Woods, Fame, Hair, An Officer and A Gentleman, The Threepenny Opera, Singin’ in the Rain and Chess.

Headshot: Lena Cruz (she/her). Supplied
Headshot: Lena Cruz (she/her). Supplied

Lin-Manuel Miranda broke new ground with the original production of In the Heights in its smash-hit Broadway debut season. With a melting-pot of stylistic influences including salsa, soul, hip-hop, street-dance, rap and merengue, the acclaimed musical won Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Original Score. 


You can read the full interviews with Olivia and Lena below. Book your tickets for the July season of In the Heights now by heading to https://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/musical-theatre-cabaret/heights


 

Olivia Dacal (Nina Rosario)


TT: Olivia, congratulations on making your professional theatre debut in such an iconic role! What does playing Nina in In the Heights mean to you personally and professionally?


Olivia: Playing Nina in In the Heights is honestly a dream come true. I grew up with this musical, and it means the world to me to take on the role of Nina. I deeply understand her, and I feel like her story mirrors my own. We are both around the same age and have left our families to attend university far from home. We are both driven and deeply passionate about our family. And importantly, we both come from hardworking Latino families, which creates an incredible connection. This musical has always had a special place in my heart.


TT: How will working alongside your aunt, Janet Dacal, who originated the role of Carla on Broadway, impact your experience in this production?

Olivia: I am incredibly lucky to have this opportunity. How many people get to say, "I worked with the original Carla!" My aunt is a very talented actor, singer, and dancer - a true triple threat. I feel honoured to work with her and importantly believe I will learn a lot from her during this production. She’s incredible and having the opportunity to share this stage with her in my professional debut is unbelievable. 


TT: What do you hope audiences will take away from your portrayal of Nina and her journey in In the Heights?


Olivia: I hope the audience recognises that Nina connects us to our dreams, successes, and our communities. She is the one who made it out, the first to go to college. Her story shows that it is possible to achieve your dreams, even when things seem impossible. But it also a story of never forgetting where you are from. Regardless of your background, I believe we can all connect to Nina as we pursue our dreams while remaining deeply connected to our communities and people.

 

Lena Cruz (Abuela Claudia)


TT: Lena, you have an extensive background in theatre and screen. How does portraying Abuela Claudia in In the Heights differ from your previous roles? Lena: I have never played a Latin American woman before. Latin American culture is so similar to the Filipino culture - the support and love of family and community, religion, language, economic aspirations, down to the gossip culture! So it’s very easy to relate to this work. I’ve never performed in a musical before that showcases Latin American music at its core and it is just glorious!


TT: Abuela Claudia is a beloved character in the musical. How do you approach bringing her warmth and wisdom to life on stage? Lena: When preparing for a role, I usually like to have a real person in mind to help me anchor my character. I was singing for an aged care facility recently and there was a Grandma there from Chile. When I saw her, I thought, “There is Abuela Claudia!” She had this beautiful smile that radiated so much warmth. So I took a photo of her and a little video. I’m looking at those everyday to help me create Abuela’s energy.


TT: How do you prepare for a role that is both emotionally and vocally demanding, like Abuela Claudia? Lena: Abuela sings a song in the show that has an ending note that holds for seven bars. I’ve been going to a studio for a few weeks before actual rehearsals started to practice that song and build my lung capacity. It’s a challenge, I’m still working on it. Also, just the basic work ethic of knowing the musical and its nature as soon as possible to really have the time to marinate it within myself, which helps me to be truly present during rehearsals.


TT: What do you believe In the Heights offers to audiences today, especially in terms of its themes of community and identity? Lena: In The Heights reminds us that it’s the quality of the relationships we develop with each other that brings the most meaning into our lives. That it’s essential to have a community where we feel a sense of belonging, where we can share from our hearts and feel free to be our authentic selves, unafraid to love and help each other realize our dreams individually and collectively.


In the Heights comes to the Opera House from July 20 – August 25. Tickets: https://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/musical-theatre-cabaret/heights


 

OLIVIA DACAL (she/her) - Nina Rosario

Olivia is thrilled to be making her professional theatre debut as Nina in ‘In the Heights’. Olivia is a Melbourne-raised Latina singer-songwriter/producer, embracing diverse genres like RnB, Jazz, Soul, and Indie/Alternative pop. Currently, she is pursuing studies in Music Production and Film scoring at Berklee in the USA on a scholarship and is gearing up for a career as an Independent Artist, Film Composer, and Producer. Previously, Olivia honed her craft at the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, specialising in jazz vocals and classical training.She describes the show as “so dear to her heart” and will be appearing in our season alongside her aunt Janet Dacal, who plays Daniela, Janet is also US based and originated the role of Carla in the original Broadway production of In The Heights, in which Janet also understudied the role of Nina.


LENA CRUZ (she/her) - Abuela Claudia

Lena is an accomplished actor and singer with an impressive range of experience in theatre and on screen.  Her musical theatre highlights include Into the Woods, Fame, Hair, An Officer and A Gentleman, The Threepenny Opera, Singin’ in the Rain and Chess. Lena is credited with creating the role of Cynthia in the original production of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. Lena’s most recent screen credit includes appearing in Netflix’s Heartbreak High and the SBS anthology series, Erotic Stories. Her other screen credits include: Limbo, Love Me (Season 2), Wellmania, Bump, The Unusual Suspects and many more.


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