For the past 28 years, Broadway veterans and longtime friends Michael John LaChiusa and Graciela Daniele have sought opportunities to work together on new shows. But when LaChiusa made his final pitch for another collaboration about three years ago, Daniele didn’t bite.
“Michael John said to me, ‘You’ve had such an interesting and tumultuous life, I’d love to write a musical about you.’ And I said, ‘I don’t want to live my life twice,’ said Daniele, 81, who will be honored on September 26 with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2021 Tony Awards.
But LaChiusa didn’t give up. About six months later, he brought up the idea again, and this time Daniele relented, on one condition.
“I told Michael John that it shouldn’t be about me but the women who created me: my grandmother, my mother and my aunt,” she said. “Their personalities were so amazing and they instilled into this little girl all the things they believed in. I’m a mixture of those women.”
The result is “Les Jardins d’Anuncia”, a 90-minute musical that will premiere Friday at the Old Globe. The Globe commissioned play will feature book, music and lyrics by LaChiusa and staging and co-choreography by Daniele. Her husband of 47 years, nine-time Tony winner Jules Fisher, will design the lighting.
The musical only traces the early years of Daniele’s life, where, as a young girl in Buenos Aires, she was abandoned by her father at the age of 6, then lost her beloved grandfather a year later. Sharing an apartment with her mother, grandmother and aunt, she developed an inner strength and dynamism, an insatiable curiosity, a love for storytelling and music, and a passion for ballet, which she started. to study seriously at the age of 7. Eight years later, she moved to Paris alone to join a ballet company, which ultimately became her springboard to Broadway. The story is told in the form of a loose memory game, narrated by an older fictional woman named Anuncia, who looks back on her life as she tends the garden of her country house.
LaChiusa, 59, said he was grateful for the opportunity to create this musical for Daniele, who has been like a second mother to him since their first collaboration, the Lincoln Center off-Broadway musical. from 1993, “Hello Again”, which he wrote and composed and she directed and choreographed.
“It’s a chance for me to thank these women for Graciela’s gift. It’s the fulfillment of a dream to make her happy, ”he said. “Then it became an even greater chance to thank all these women and men in our life for the triumphs and successes that we have. It is good to remember those who have passed away and to cherish their memories.
In the early 1960s in Paris, Daniele was working as a touring ballerina when she saw the musical film “West Side Story” and was amazed at how Jerome Robbins’ jazz choreography expanded the storytelling capacity of the dance. Eager to learn this theatrical form, the 23-year-old ballerina moved to New York City in September 1963, was spotted in a dance class by a Broadway choreographer, and two months later was rehearsing for her first show at Broadway.
In 1981, she choreographed her first show, “Pirates of Penzance”, and received a Tony nomination. Eight more Tony nods would follow in the choreography, directing and music book categories for shows, including “Ragtime”, “Once on This Island”, “The Rink” and “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” , a 1996 musical that she co-wrote with LaChiusa and choreographed.
“Chronicle of a Death Foretold” was LaChiusa’s first Tony-nominated musical. Since then he has won four more Tony nominations and 13 Drama Desk nominations for shows including “The Wild Party” and “Marie Christine”, the latter directed by Daniele.
Over the years, Daniele has said that she and LaChiusa worked together on seven shows, but “Gardens” could be her last, although she admits that she has been threatening to retire for 20 years. She describes LaChiusa as the son she never had.
“I really think if I had the choice of a child, I would choose Michael John. He has all the qualities that I love,” she said. “We have an amazing relationship, and I depend on it. him for everything, not only at work but in everyday life. It’s like we’re inseparable right now.
LaChiusa said the reason he enjoyed working with Daniele was that they had a “great simpatico relationship”.
“We often think of the same thoughts at the same time,” he said. “To be able to make her smile and make her creative, there is nothing better. Theater is a highly collaborative sport. You cannot do it alone. When you’re able to produce work that inspires your coworker and comes back to inspire you to be better, that’s a really exciting dynamic to have.
“The Gardens of Anuncia” began rehearsals at the Old Globe in early August, where Daniele and LaChiusa have both worked in the past. Daniele choreographed “The Snow Ball” there in 1991 and there directed and choreographed “Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life” in 2005. LaChiusa wrote the music and lyrics for “Rain”, which premiered at the Globe in 2016.
LaChiusa is a prolific songwriter who believes he has written hundreds of musicals over the years. After Daniele gave him permission to write the series a few years ago, he had composed the opening song in 24 hours. But since “Gardens” started rehearsals last month, LaChiusa has said he’s written several new songs that seem to fit better as the show takes shape. He praised The Globe and its artistic director, Barry Edelstein, for being open to the creative process and to change if something doesn’t work.
“It’s great to have the freedom to express myself the way I feel best, without the 1,001 roadblocks that many theaters put up,” he said. “The Globe is remarkably adept at making it a very fertile environment for everyone. ”
The cast of “Gardens” includes Mary Testa as Granmama (grandmother), star of “Rain” Eden Espinosa as “Mamí” (mother) and Andréa Burns like Tía (aunt). Young Anuncia is played by Kalyn West and older Anuncia is played by Carmen Roman.
Daniele said seeing fictional versions of her family members often made her cry during rehearsals. She describes her own “mami” as the strong and hardworking father figure of the family and her grandmother as her caregiver who served as “roots in the tree trunk and we were the branches” . But it was her “tía” that introduced her to music and art.
“My aunt was only 12 years older than me, so she was like an older sister. She loved classical music and after dinner she would turn on the radio and we would lay on the floor and she would say, “Close your eyes and tell me what you see. If that’s not learning to be creative, I can’t imagine better than that. She was the one who started to prepare my brain to tell stories, ”said Daniele.
While Anuncia is modeled after Daniele – particularly her passion for nature and gardening in the 18th-century stone-walled house in New Jersey that she and her husband share – she said members of the public do not shouldn’t expect to hear about his professional accomplishments in “Les Jardins d’Anuncia.”
“This musical is about emotion. It’s about relationships, ”she said. “It’s about how humans are influenced in their childhood and how they help her achieve her dreams and push her to have strength, clarity, courage and love for her. the work of the future. “
“Les Jardins d’Anuncia” will open the Globe’s indoor season in the main Old Globe theater. The Globe has implemented a new vaccine and mask policy to protect spectators, staff and performers from the burgeoning variant of COVID-19 Delta. Details can be found at theoldglobe.org/plan-your-visit/covid-19-policy/.
“The Gardens of Anuncia”
When: Preview shows from Friday to September 16. Open on September 17 and until October 17. Show times at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; and 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, with some exceptions.
Or: Old Globe Theater, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego.
Tickets: $ 37 and more
Call: (619) 234-5623
In line: theoldglobe.org