“After crying about Jesus for three months, this is a welcome change of pace,” Natascia Diaz says.
When Diaz last appeared onstage at Signature Theatre, it was earlier this year as Mary Magdalene in “Jesus Christ Superstar” — not exactly a comedy. Prior to that, she played Anita in the theater’s 2015-16 production of “West Side Story.” And while Anita is certainly funny, the show doesn’t have a particularly happy ending.
Now Diaz is getting to have some fun as she takes on the role of Irene Roth in “Crazy for You,” an old-school, toe-tapping, all-Gershwin-all-the-time musical.
Irene is set to marry Bobby (Danny Gardner), whether he likes it or not. He flees to a one-horse town in the west, where he meets and falls in love with Polly (Ashley Spencer). Instantly, of course.
The show “has that wonderful quality of why people used to watch those Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers films,” Diaz says. “They were real, but at the same time there was this fairy dust in the air.”
Diaz says Signature has always given her opportunities to play roles that she often wasn’t considered “right” for at other theaters.
“Basically, typecasting is racism in casting. ‘Oh, this part has to be this way, and it’s always been white,’ ” says Diaz, who is half Italian and half Puerto Rican. “In New York, I would constantly be going out for the part [against] the white, blond girls. I don’t want to say I didn’t get the parts because I wasn’t white enough, but it always seemed to go type-wise in the way that was traditional.”
That’s not the case at Signature. “They use me in incredibly interesting ways, and that’s the most an actor dreams about,” Diaz says. “To be used, stretched, put in things that are unexpected.”
In “Crazy for You,” that means playing the acerbic Irene, who is propelled by a desire for wealth and sex — not necessarily in that order.
“I’m having a really fun time trying to figure out where that is in me, and finding this new frequency that is so much fun to inhabit,” Diaz says. “The stuff I’m doing — it’s sexy, it’s hilarious, it’s unexpected, it’s just so much fun. It’s quite a delightful new vista.”
Diaz made her debut at Signature as Aurora in 2008’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” a part she got after now-associate artistic director Matthew Gardiner (who directs “Crazy for You”) saw her in “Carnival!” at the Kennedy Center. Gardiner plastered photos of Diaz all around the office of “Spider Woman” director Eric Schaeffer (and made her headshot his screen saver) “and was like, ‘This is the girl, just trust me,’ ” Diaz says. “A month later, Eric offered me the role without an audition. I was so stunned by it, I thought it was a joke.”
Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington; through Jan. 14, $40-$113.