In The Gardens of Anuncia, Eden Espinosa plays Mami, the mother of the recollecting Older Anuncia, who herself is based on Graciela (Grazie) Daniele, the director, co-choreographer and inspiration for the musical. Espinosa, who grew up in L.A. and is beloved for her Broadway portrayals of Elphaba in “Wicked” and Maureen in Rent, did not take long in our recent conversation to talk about the complexities of the Mami character.

“There is a partial ambiguity of details regarding her. That’s because in memory Grazie is sometimes not sure about things. For example, my character is working for a government office, in Argentina, at the time of Peron. But is she working for or secretly against the government?”

In coming up with a backstory for Mami, Espinosa decided that the character was probably working against the government and was passing along information. “It was nothing insane,” Espinosa said, “but she got caught. In the show, we say she was in jail for months. In reality, it was probably for only a day or two. But the imminent fear of being found out and punished was always there.”

According to Espinosa, constructing her character was fascinating not only because of Mami’s political side but because of her parental side. “She gave tough love to her daughter. Grazie said her mother sat her down when she was seven years old and said, ‘We’re going to have a chat, woman to woman.’ She didn’t baby-talk her. She was a single parent who worked and that didn’t leave much time to nurture a soft side.”

Espinosa remarked that even though she herself grew up around strong Latina women that Mami’s toughness was difficult to play during the initial production of The Gardens of Anuncia, at The Old Globe, in San Diego.
“I didn’t want Mami to be unlikeable. I judged her for her toughness, and it’s not helpful to judge characters you’re playing. When you do that you can’t fully get inside their skin.”

How did Espinosa learn to evolve her character? “I had the opportunity to live with the story through rehearsals and readings and more than one production.” It’s a process that Espinosa has also been experiencing with Lempicka, a new musical which will land on Broadway in March with Espinosa in the title role of the fascinating 20th-century Polish painter Tamara de Lempicka.

Like most musicals, Lempicka has been long a-borning. Espinosa commented: “You live with a show for years and even though it isn’t necessary for it to come to New York to be satisfying there’s often a part of you that wants it to be here. So I’m very happy that Lempicka is going to land on Broadway. In a season of many new musicals we’re the wild card – the one that isn’t based on a movie or a book.”

The Gardens of Anuncia, of course, also relies on no previously packaged material. Inspired by Daniele’s life, its words and music were created by Michael John LaChiusa. “I’ve done another of Michael John’s shows,” Espinosa said, referring to the 2016 musical Rain, “and they’re always special.” She added: “Michael John creates a lush, complex playground for us to play in. The Gardens of Anuncia is not an easy sing, but it’s very satisfying to do every night. I’m so happy we – it’s a terrific ensemble that I’m part of – have had this chance to honor Grazie and her legacy in front of a New York audience.”

Brendan Lemon is a freelance journalist in New York.