THE GARDENS OF ANUNCIA
Off-Broadway, at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center, was a sweet - if not unduly modest - musical, The Gardens of Anuncia, directed by the legendary choreographer and director Graciela Daniele and inspired by her childhood in Argentina ruled by dictator Juan Peron and the women in her life who informed her artistic dreams. The narrative - with book music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa, who is known for quirky musicals such as Hello Again, Marie Christine, The Wild Party, and See What I Wanna See - unfolds like a memory play. Daniele is gently played by Priscilla Lopez whose stage career is best known for introducing the famous numbers “What I Did for Love” and “Nothing” in the original production of A Chorus Line.
The women in Daniela’s life are Granmama (the irresistibly sassy Mary Testa), her aunt Tia (Andrea Burns) and her mother Mami (Eden Espinosa). Daniela as a young girl is played by Kalyn West. Enrique Acevedo and Tally Sessions play various male figures in her life - such as father, priest, brother, even a forest buck in a nod to the Magical Realism - but the roles are unfocused. Daneila’s story IS defined by the women in her life, and the play could have told the tale without male players, which would have heightened the intimacy of it all.
A highly personal sense of modesty prevails. Indeed, The Gardens of Anuncia eschews any public highlights of Daniele’s career, which spanned six decades from performances on Broadway in shows like Promises, Promises, to choreographing hits like Ragtime and most recently The Visit, to Off-Broadway collaborations with LaChiusa, to a Tony Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022. LaChiusa’s music seems largely tango-inspired, and is lovingly sung by the whole cast. Stage movement and dance is impeccably graceful. Mark Wendland’s minimalist set, defined by a luminous, flowery beaded curtain of green, lends a sense of magic to it all.