Theater: “The Garden of Anuncia” starring Pricilla Lopez
“They don’t make musicals like they used to,” people often claim. Or do they? Michael John LaChouda’s touching, melodic “Gardens of Anuncia” (Lincoln Center) offers hope.
The heart of the play: Anuncia (Priscilla Lopez), a thrice-married ballerina-turned-choreographer who is set to receive a lifetime achievement award in New York City. “Why do they always give it to old people?” she complains, puttering around her garden, muttering to her plants.
This offers her the occasion to look back on her early years in Buenos Aires, where as a teenager (played by the lovely Kalyn West from “The Prom”) she lived with her Mami (Eden Espinoza), her Tia (Andrea Burns) and her grandmama, the redoubtable Mary Testa who has never been in better or louder voice. The late 1940s-early 1950s are troubled times in Argentina, as Juan and Eva Peron rule the country as if it’s their personal Candy Land, stealing from Argentinians of every class and enriching themselves.
We also meet Grandma’s husband (Enrique Acevedo), a merchant marine who travels the world and is mostly MIA. Mama, similarly deserted by her faithless husband, works for the government but keeps her anti-Peron opinions to herself. Tia remains unmarried and is wary of suitors like the Mustache Brothers (Acevedo and Tally Sessions who play multiple roles).
The book is peppered with witty wisecracks. Occasionally a weird character makes an appearance—including a talking deer complete with antlers. “Why are Americans so fascinated with magical realism?” Anuncia asks herself. Why indeed.
There is not a weak number in the score, an unbelievable character in the cast, nor a false line in the book. Older Anuncia explains how she left Argentina for the wider world but hasn’t forgotten where she came from. “You can never say goodbye,” she sings in one of the best songs in this musical which boldly wears its heart on its sleeve. Only at Lincoln Center for a limited time, so if you miss it, don’t cry for me, Argentina.
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