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Janet Dacal

Age: "Young and fabulous!"

Hometown: Los Angeles, "but I really consider Miami my home. I moved there when I was 17, and it's where I got in touch with my Cuban background."

Currently: Playing Carla, the lovably ditzy "Chilidominicarican" salon assistant in the Tony-winning Broadway musical In the Heights.

Sing Out! The daughter of Cuban-born parents her mom is from La Vibora, the hometown Abuela Claudia sings about in In the Heights, Dacal describes herself as a lifelong ham. "My mom says that when I was four, I would grab a brush and pretend to sing songs into a microphone," the vivacious actress says. "I was the little girl of the family, and they loved to see me dance around and make people laugh." Dacal's parents insisted she become bilingual, "and I'm incredibly grateful for that now," she says. "I have an appreciation for the struggle my parents went through for a better life, and it's wonderful to experience both cultures—Latin and American—fully."

Miami Sound Machine: After high school, Dacal left L.A. for Miami with her mother and brother and found a job in the recording studios of Emilio and Gloria Estefan. "I got to Miami and was like, 'Oh my god, everyone here is like me! We share the same culture; we share the same food; we share the same music." Dacal soon began singing backup for Latin pop stars such as Estefan, Jon Secada and Luis Enrique. But when a friend recommended her for the Miami production of Four Guys Named Jose…and Una Mujer Named Maria, she fell in love with theater. "I decided to move to New York seven years ago, and the first audition I went on was for In the Heights!"

Surfer Girl: During Heights' lengthy development period, Dacal made her Broadway debut in the ill-fated Beach Boys musical Good Vibrations. The good part: sharing the stage with talented newcomers such as Sebastian Arcelus, Kate Reinders and Tituss Burgess. The bad part: the show itself, which closed after 94 performances and critical pans. "We knew at the time that it wasn't the best thing to hit Broadway," Dacal says cheerfully, "but we had to pull together and believe in ourselves, so the cast really bonded. I made some incredible friends out of that experience, just as I have with In the Heights."

Hundreds of Stories: From the beginning, Dacal was convinced that In the Heights deserved to be a success. "The first time I heard Lin's music, I knew it was destined for something great," she says of the Tony-winning score by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Slowly, as Miranda added and deleted material—"he has a trunk of more than 60 songs he's written in the course of these seven years," she notes—the musical came together as a portrait of a close-knit neighborhood. "It became apparent during our off-Broadway run that the focus of the show is the community and the love these characters have for their home," Dacal says. "That's what the audience responds to."

Saucy Salonmates: What's fun about playing Carla, the gullible assistant to In the Heights' sassy beauty salon owner Daniela Andrea Burns? "Oh god, everything!" Dacal exclaims. "I tell my friends, 'I cannot believe that I basically get paid to laugh.' Carla is not the brightest bulb, but it comes more from a place of innocence as opposed to not being smart. Having a firecracker like Daniela as her opposing light is like yin and yang." Luckily, when Dacal met the Miami-born Burns, the two actresses felt an instant connection. "There's a very specific comedic flair that comes with that type of Latin woman," she says of Burns' character. "We automatically started having fun with that onstage. Andrea is one of the most special people in my life, and I love sharing the stage with her."

Triple Threat: In addition to playing Carla, Dacal understudies Karen Olivo as Vanessa and Mandy Gonzalez as Nina and has gone on in both leading lady roles. "I tell those two girls, 'You work way too hard!'" she jokes. "But it's fascinating to get to see the world [of In the Heights] through completely different eyes. With Nina and Benny [Christopher Jackson], it's more of a long-term love relationship. Vanessa is fiery, and it's very special to play opposite Lin [as Usnavi] because I've known him for so long and have such a sweet relationship with him outside the show." After a "magical" Tony night, Dacal is thrilled to be settling in for a long run in this year's Best Musical. "Opportunities like this come around once in a lifetime," she says. "So we're taking advantage of it and having a wonderful time."

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