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“The Gardens of Anuncia” reviewed

The Gardens of Anuncia is a memory musical based on a lightly-fictionalized version of director/choreographer Graciela Daniele’s childhood in Argentina under the Perón regime. Daniele’s stand-in, Anuncia (Priscilla Lopez), first appears as an eighty-year-old woman reflecting on her past before driving into the city to collect a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award. Anything can happen in her magic realist garden, including the appearance of her younger self (Kalyn West) and the trio of women who raised her: Mami Carmen (Eden Espinosa), Granmama Magdalena (Mary Testa), and Tía Lucia (Andréa Burns). LaChiusa’s musical jumps around her memory to give us a full picture of these four extraordinary women and how Anuncia – and Daniele – came of age.

LaChiusa’s score has a jangly, youthful feel when Older Anuncia travels back in her mind. Daniele and co-choreographer Alex Sanchez give West graceful ballet-inflected moves to sweep the past forward into Anuncia’s garden. Mami, Granmama, and Tía’s voices echo back at her through time and we are introduced to them as exuberant, funny, strong, and soulful women, clearly all of whom have rubbed off on Older Anuncia. But LaChiusa and Anuncia’s memory don’t stay in the happy times. The score has a broad reach, taking us into a dance club, a deer’s mind (yes), and through the tortured political climate. This isn’t an Evita-view of Perón’s legacy; it’s one from someone who actually lived through it.

Lopez delivers several monologues with a remarkable, commanding presence. It’s never unclear who’s in charge and how that colors what we’re seeing. LaChiusa’s writing manages to capture the perspective of her younger self while filtering in Older Anuncia’s reckoning of those feelings through the passage of time. Lopez is younger than Daniele, but their careers span a similar period of time. It’s brilliant casting – Lopez often feels like she is Daniele, or like Daniele’s stories are her own. There is a seamless blend of character and actor. Lopez is so comfortable she takes Mark Wendland’s green-floored set from an abstract space into a believable, breathing garden.