“The Gardens of Anuncia” is a moving, charming feminist alternative to “Evita”

By Lucy Komisar

From working class kid to a master director/choreographer. That would have been story enough. But “Anuncia” is a charming, moving feminist story of a family of women who made that happen in the face of a repressive government in Argentina. Think of it as another take on “Evita,” the story of Eva Perón, who built her career on marriage with the president. This family was in the opposition.

Graciela Daniele was the director/choreographer of Broadway shows Once on This Island and Annie Get Your Gun, and the choreographer of RagtimeThe Pirates of PenzanceThe Rink, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood… Before that, she was a dancer in the original Broadway companies of FolliesChicago, and Promises, Promises

Eden Espinosa as Mami, Kalyn West as Anuncia, Mary Testa as Granmama, and Andréa Burns as Tía, photo Julieta Cervantes.

And before that she was a young woman growing up in 1940s Buenos Aires in the time of President Juan Perón. He was pro-worker but also authoritarian. (Judgment withheld.) Her story is at the heart of this vibrant, moving musical play, almost like a chamber opera, written with both subtlety and passion by Michael John LaChuisa and directed and choreographed by …. Graciela Daniele.

The young woman, Anuncia, is Kalyn West and the older Anuncia (really Graciela) is Priscilla Lopez.

The heroes, or rather heroines, of the story are Anuncia’s mother (Eden Espinosa), grandmother (the inimitable Mary Testa) and aunt (Andréa Burns) shown in the thinly disguised story of Anuncia (Kalyn West as a child and Priscilla Lopez as a young woman). All have lovely opera-style sopranos. Though Anuncia/Graciela would become a dancer and build a career in Europe and the U.S., this is not about her as a dancer but about the family of strong women who struggled against abusive men.

Priscilla Lopez and Kalyn West as older and younger Anuncia dancing, photo Julieta Cervantes.

The story is told by pointed songs and fine dances. Daniele is clearly in charge.

Anuncia’s father deserted her mother. She lives with Mami (Espinosa), Granmama (Testa) and Tía (Burns), who all work in a fishing yard. Then Mami gets a job working for the government. They are all fearful.

Anuncia takes ballet lessons on a doctor’s recommendation because her flat feet hurt. And against bullying, she is taught to fight. Toughness built into her.

There’s some nice ballet by Anuncia. By Daniele.

And education about men and love. Testa, in her usual smash performance – I admit to being a fan — as Grandma explains about her marriage, that she and her husband can’t stand each other up close.

Mami goes to the Malageña Tango Club. Grandma says tango is not done by respectable woman. At the club a man comes on to her, they get involved, he leaves. Could be a tango story.

Anuncia young (Kalyn West) and old (Priscilla Lopez), Granmama (Mary Testa), Tía ( Andréa Burns) and Mami (Eden Espinosa), photo Julieta Cervantes.

There’s a funny sketch about the Moustache Brothers, both suitors. Forget them!

But more serious, Mami is picked up by police, arrested for suspicious behavior, passing information to the opposition. Released after three months.

Later, Grandma tells Anuncia about a secret love and the sorrows of women. The darkness of men. How hard it is to love.

Priscilla Lopez as Anuncia, photo Julieta Cervantes.

Turns out Anuncia’s father is a gambler. No forgiveness! Quite an education this young lady got!

Anuncia goes to France to the Nice Ballet. Later to Broadway, though that is not part of the show’s story.

To surmise, charming movement and dancing, terrific opera-quality singing by all, and a top-notch script about a family of women that made possible the rise of a world-class dancer-choreographer-dancer.

Loved this show!

The Gardens of Anuncia.” Book and music by Michael John LaChuisa. Directed and choreographed by Graciela Danielle. Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi Newhouse, 150 West 65th Street, NYC. Runtime 95 minutes, no intermission. Tkts 212-239-6210 or 800-543-4835. Opened Nov 20, 2023, closes Dec 31, 2023. Review on NY Theatre Wire.

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