When Gabriella Enriquez went to audition for a part in Bucks County Playhouse’s current production Evita, she never imagined the experience would turn out the way it did.
A relatively newcomer to the world of professional theater, Enriquez had her sights set on the ensemble role of Juan Perón’s mistress. But as she finished her audition, those casting Evita had a murmured conversation before asking her if she knew the material of Eva Perón, the leading lady of the show. Several weeks later, Enriquez received the unprecedented call that she landed the role.
“I was just over the moon,” she told The Times. “You know when you don’t expect those things and you are happy to share those moments from your heart? It was a blessing.”
Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope celebrated opening night of Evita, its fourth mainstage offering this year, on Sept. 24 during Hispanic Heritage Month. That evening, state Sen. Steve Santarsiero presented a check to the Playhouse of state funds to be used for lighting upgrades to the outdoor space.
With lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and music by Tim Rice, this revamped revival of Evita is set in the basement of an Argentinian tango bar and takes a fresh look at the life of the former First Lady of Argentina. The icon’s rise and fall is revisited through the eyes of her supporters, who have gathered in the club a decade after her death to celebrate her legacy.
For Enriquez, it’s a joy to present Evita to audiences following a speedy rehearsal process in New York. A particular favorite on-stage moment is the balcony scene, which shows her singing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” to her people.
She’s also been enjoying finding “moments of magic” with her all-Latinx co-stars during each performance. Everyone is on stage the entire time, with the ensemble morphing into aristocrats, the military and other characters. Additionally, everyone is singing the whole time.
“There are no pauses of scenes where it’s just talking,” said Enriquez.
Still, this hasn’t been the biggest challenge for the actress. Rather, Eva’s wardrobe is proving to be a lot to handle. When you’re a First Lady, there are naturally going to be quite a few looks to show off.
“I have so many costume changes and a total of four or five wigs that I wear. And some changes are less than a minute, where I have to change into a brand new costume and jewelry and hair. And I have to stay hydrated,” she explained. “How do I not lose my saliva, get dressed and come in on time?”
Despite the time crunch, Enriquez has managed to execute each transition flawlessly thanks to a personal dresser waiting for her in the wings. At this point in the show’s run, they have her costume changes down to a science.
Landing the leading role in a show that takes place in a tango bar is somewhat serendipitous for Enriquez. After graduating from college in 2019, she resided in New York to pursue a professional career in theater. However, six months into her post-grad stay, COVID-19 shutdowns happened and she moved back home to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
As she waited for the pandemic to calm down so that she could head back east, Enriquez landed a job as a barista and server at a new Argentinian eatery. Here, she became immersed in the culture and even learned the art of the tango, which took place at the restaurant every day. The owners also imparted knowledge about the former First Lady.
“They really brought into light the corruption and the bad parts of Eva, which were interesting and necessary to hear as well, not just where she was praised,” said Enriquez. “And although an icon and huge force of political power in the world, she was a person. Despite all the fame and accolades that she received in her life, that doesn’t mean that she didn’t also suffer the way that everybody else did. She suffered with cancer. It’s hard to be considered an icon. I want people to leave the show realizing that, at the end of the day, she’s human.”
Enriquez’s theater training officially began in the fourth grade at the National Dance Institute of New Mexico — a nonprofit that brings dance classes to underserved communities. After attending a free class, Enriquez was informed by an instructor that she had something special. She then immersed herself in ballet, jazz and tap lessons at the school, secured a scholarship for a summer program in New York and, eventually, took the risk of pursuing theater as a career.
Through it all, her parents served as a strong support system. When asked how they felt when she was named Eva, Enriquez gushed, “They’re ecstatic, over the moon. I can’t even describe it. Especially my mom. I think it’s been such an honor that I’ve been able to portray Latina women in the musical theater canon and this is the role. Plus, it’s during Hispanic Heritage Month and a month before my mom’s birthday. She is the strongest woman. She’s a role model for me and now I get to portray a strong woman like Evita.”
Enriquez has since moved back to the Big Apple and is continuing to go on auditions and grow her resume. Her dream is to appear on stages around the world.
“Live theater is so important, especially after the pandemic and being isolated from others,” she said. “The human desire to want to be close to each other is so vital and I believe theater is where that magic comes to life.”
If you go: ‘Evita’ is on stage at Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S. Main St. in New Hope, through Oct. 30. Tickets are on sale now and start at $70. Visit buckscountyplayhouse.org or call 215-862-2121 to purchase tickets and for more information.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org