Janet Dacal is about to take a leap down the rabbit hole as Alice in the Alley Theatre's new musical Wonderland. The Cuban-American actress plays Alice Cornwinkle, a modern-day descendant of Alice Liddell, Lewis Carroll's inspiration for Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. (The show is in previews and has its official opening Wednesday.) Dacal appeared on Broadway in the 2008 Tony Award-winning In the Heights and Good Vibrations, in numerous off Broadway productions and has toured with Gloria Estefan and Jon Secada. She brings us into the wonder.
Q: Did you have any special attachment to Lewis Carroll's classic tale?
A: I watched the Disney movie over and over and over. I was so taken by the wacky and outrageous characters. The tea party scene sticks in my mind. But I did not read the books until just recently in preparation for this role. It's really interesting to approach this material as an adult.
Q: In Wonderland you play a New York City-based, stressed-out children's book author suffering from writer's block, an impending divorce, and a runaway daughter, a far cry from Carroll's curious Alice. How do you relate to this Alice?
A: Alice is basically everyone. As an actor living in New York I can relate to the trials of juggling a career and a family spread all over the place. It's easy to tap into her struggles.
Q: Frank Wildhorn (who created the music for Wonderland) is most known for bringing a pop sound into musical theater in such hits as Jekyll & Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernel. How does pop fit your vocal range?
A: One of the amazing things about my job is that I get to meet and work with my heroes and Frank is one of them. I grew up in musical theater singing his songs. It's the coolest thing to work with a living composer. I also have a background doing backup vocals, so I'd say it's a wonderful match for my skills.
Q: I understand you are on stage almost every moment of the show, and that choreographer Marguerite Derricks keeps you in motion as well. Sounds exhausting.
A: It's exhilarating. The great thing about the show is that it's like a bandwagon, once it starts I just jump on it and it just goes. I mean the show flies by quickly so it's easy to stay connected. It's exhausting for sure, but it's so much fun. Marguerite is a spunky spitfire and she created fantastic choreography that matches my abilities. It was an incredible treat to work with her.
Q: I'm worried, Alice falls for the hunky White Knight (Darren Ritchie), but he's in Wonderland, not Manhattan. How's that going to work out?
A: I don't want to give away too much, but when Alice goes down the rabbit hole she finds a connection between those famous characters and the people in her real life. The story flows from reality to inner dream. It will all make sense, you will see.