THE GARDENS OF ANUNCIA, the world premiere Old Globe commissioned musical is a lovely, funny, and heartfelt musical that celebrates the love of family, art, and even the adversity that helps a person truly bloom. THE GARDENS OF ANUNCIA is playing at The Old Globe through October 17th.
This Globe-commissioned world-premiere musical is loosely based on the life of Director and Choreographer Graciela Daniele, with book, music, and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa. It would be easy with a career like Daniele’s to make the show about her journey from 1940’s Peron controlled Argentina to the present.
Daniele instead chooses to focus the story by paying homage to the family of women who raised her., her Grandmama, Mamí, and Tía. Their strengths and sacrifices allowed Daniele to become the artist who would one day earn a lifetime achievement Tony Award in 2021.
The show opens with present-day Anunica (Carmen Roman) in her garden, holding a box, talking to her garden flowers, and reminiscing about the gardening and life advice she got when she was young. She has a task to do before she has to leave the garden to drive into the city to collect her award. She laughingly bemoans having to drive hours into the city, and get dressed up, only to the drive hours back to return to her garden.
Anuncia’s garden is flowers and foliage, but also a garden of memories that pop up in colorful and unexpected ways. Tomatoes have her remembering her Grandmama (Mary Testa), irises that bloom when and where they want to remind her of her Tía Lucia (Andréa Burns), and the resilience and beauty of flowers remind her of her Mamí (Eden Espinosa). Younger Anuncia (Kalyn West) also dances around the garden reminding older Anuncia of all the good times and bad.
Testa is delightfully funny as Grandmamma, especially when speaking of or dealing with her beloved if estranged husband. Her duet “Waiting/Dreaming” sung along with Enrique Acevedo as the Grandfather had the crowd howling with laughter and cheering before it even ended.
Burns has a gorgeous voice and radiates warmth and creativity making it easy to see how Tía Lucia helped shape Anuncia’s creativity and art. When I interviewed Burns she challenged me to get to the end of the show and not tear up, and sure enough her “Never A Goodbye” had me very misty.
Espinosa’s Mamí is a stern but loving mother, who has to have a backbone of steel to keep a job in the government while maintaining a low profile. She is the one who introduces Anuncia to ballet (to help Anuncia’s arches) and has a love for the tango herself. Her solo “Malagueña” is a dramatic moment and showcases her powerful vocals.
Roman as the Older Anuncia brings a wry sense of humor and playfulness as she exclaims “in my garden magical realism is just reality!” before having a conversation with a Deer. She fondly reminisces with her memories (sometimes altering them to suit her better) and despairs at the memories that are too deep to change no matter how much she may wish to do so.
West is a lovely dancer and vocalist and brings the enthusiasm, stubbornness, and rage that can only come from being young.
Enrique Acevedo and Tally Sessions play all of the male roles in the show, from comedic dueling suitors trying to win Tia’s affection, to Acevedo as the voyaging Grandfather, and Sessions as a talking Deer.
The infusion of magical realism only heightens the dreamlike feel, and also explains the talking Deer (Sessions) who impart some interesting outlooks on life while on their way to eat the hedges of the garden.
The dreaminess is undercut by the darker realities of loving the wrong people and living in Peron’s Argentina. This Argentina is not the tribute that you may be familiar with from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s EVITA.
The scenic design by Mark Wendland is a modern garden that allows for people and memories to come into focus and then fade back into the fuzzy recesses of the mind. It’s a bit of a maze and a bit of a dance as the actors navigate the piece, mimicking the way memories tend to wander of their own accord.
The show is a lovely memory play to these women and performed beautifully by a charismatic cast. The book feels slight at best, and I’m not entirely sure the show would work at all without a cast this strong. One key dramatic reveal felt like it was added to manufacture additional conflict, and not because the audience was vested in learning more about the character that was already established as one to loathe. This time could have been better used to explore some of Anuncia’s award-worthy accomplishments instead, as her career which was inspired by these formidable women, remains a bit of an enigma in the show.
Gardens, like audiences, bloom best when they are loved and told stories. Luckily the audience for THE GARDENS OF ANUNCIA gets told poignant stories exploring the memories of Graciela Daniele. Now excuse me, I have to go water my roses and tell my plumeria some stories.
The Old Globe is requiring proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test result within 72 hours of the performance date required. Masks are required whenever indoors and throughout the performance.
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