Gabriella Enriquez plays Eva Perón in the revival of ‘Evita’ at Bucks County Playhouse
The show, which runs from Sept. 23 to Oct. 30, also features an all-Hispanic cast.
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Gabriella Enriquez is leading the all-Hispanic cast in Bucks County Playhouse’s revival of Evita, the musical based on the life of former First Lady of Argentina, and activist Eva Perón.
The newest take on the hit musical will get a second wind at Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA, in a new rendition that first appeared at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater in New York back in 2018. It is reimagined from its traditional setting and put in the basement of an Argentinian tango bar.
The lead, Enriquez, is a singer, dancer, and actress from Santa Fe, New Mexico, who initially auditioned for a smaller part but producers elevated her to the lead. She was born to a Mexican mother from Hermosillo, Mexico and a father from Lincoln, Nebraska, which created a childhood where she felt in the middle between two cultures, an aspect of her life she has embraced.
“I love the way Spanglish melts together what I’m thinking and feeling — a dance of constant translation. Growing up my mom would say: ‘Pick one at a time and speak it well!’” part of the about page on Enriquez’s website reads. “Well, like most third generation kids, I eventually came to terms with the central theme in my life: no soy ni de aquí ni de allá, I’m neither from here nor there. Perdón mamá, but I’m meant to find the middle ground.”
Finding the middle ground
In a phone interview with AL DÍA about her life and role in Evita, Enriquez also talked about how she always felt in between cultures all her life.
“What's on my inside is not showing on my outside. I go to Mexico and I'm the ‘American one.’ Then in the U.S., I'd be one of the few Mexicans at my charter school and I didn't belong there either, I was called exotic. So it's always navigating the inbetweens and trying to decipher, ‘Where do I belong?’” said Enriquez.
Those certain childhood revelations were not fully realized until later in life, but Enriquez always felt them.
“We feel displaced and being the kid of immigrants, a third generation, where I'm trying to take on the culture of my mom and her values, but I also am infusing the norms and culture as an American and as a millennial specifically,” she said, but now that balance has a new meaning. “I always felt it, but now I have vocabulary to describe what's going on and the parts of my tradition I take on and empower me,” she said.
Enriquez grew up in a mobile home park in Santa Fe that her parents oversaw. It was home to a large Hispanic community that looked after one another.
“We all felt like a family,” she said. “I think that that honestly lends itself to living a balanced and healthy life, to having a big support system of people who are rooting for you and can see you in different aspects of your growing up.”
A passion for theater
The communal background also played a role in her natural gravitation towards the arts, which included singing, dancing, and acting. When she discovered theater, it proved to be much more than just a form of artistic expression.
“I'm always looking for a place where I can belong. In theater, it is back and forth, but a representation of life. When I'm on stage, it's up to me to be a mirror for society, culture, for people to see, ‘Oh, this is how we behave. This is how we feel. These are the things that we do,’” said Enriquez.
Along with that reflection of life also comes a level of responsibility to both understand one’s own experiences and biases, and be willing to hear other people.
“You have to be self aware and introspective as an artist, and constantly be pulling out,” said Enriquez. “Everyone has a home there. You belong there regardless of where you come from. I think that everyone's experience and what they have to offer is welcomed. That's why I was drawn to theater so that I could tell the story that I've been able to witness because I've been able to sit in some incredible rooms of people and learn from cultures that are worth sharing. I would love to be a vessel to honor them.”
Enriquez immersed herself into that world early on in life and it became a passion that only grew as time went on. She started at the New Mexico National Dance Institute (NDI), a nonprofit dance organization that brought dance to underserved communities for free. From that, Enriquez got a scholarship to study ballet.
“They saw something in me,” she said.
At 13, she scored a role in A Chorus Line as a lead and as one of the youngest members of the cast.
A Summer in New York City
It is also at NDI New Mexico that Enriquez met co-founder of NDI and legendary ballet dancer Jacques d'Amboise, once of the famous New York City Ballet, co-founded with Catherine Oppenheimer. Daughter of Jacques d'Amboise, Charlotte was also a famous ballet dancer and Broadway performer, who played Cassie in the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line, earning her a Tony nomination.
Recognizing an interest to learn and passion for theater in the young Enriquez, d’Amboise offered her an all expenses-paid Summer program in New York City to learn and further immerse herself in the arts.
“I immediately thought of my family. I was like, ‘this is a great hobby, but I want to provide for my family, they've given me everything,’ I don't know if I could do that with this. That's kind of a really big risk that I don't know if I should take logically or practically,” Enriquez said.
She would agree to the Summer program of a lifetime just as she is about to enter high school.
“My whole family saved up and we all went to New York City for that Summer, and I remember seeing my first Broadway show,” said Enriquez.
That first show was Evita alongside her mom, and featured Ricky Martin playing Che Guevara. It was a show that solidified her desire to have a future on stage, and one that has reentered her life in 2022 as a lead character.
Evita in 2022
The opportunity first came during the pandemic.
It forced her back home, where she worked as a server and a barista at a restaurant owned by Argentines. The culture of the owners influenced Enriquez and prepared her for the role even before she knew about the opportunity.
Her longtime agents since college were the first ones to come across the opportunity. In what was initially an audition for a smaller part, the producers made her the lead as the famous and charismatic Eva Perón.
It was a longtime dream of Enriquez’s and a story she related to.
“She came from the working class and she made her way up to be one of the most famously recognized first ladies internationally ever so she was really involved in politics and, or in just humanity, speaking for the people because she came from being the people. I feel very connected to that. Coming from growing up in a mobile home park, and being able to share stories of my experience on big stages,” she said.
When asked about what it is like to be the lead of a production like Evita, Enriquez said it felt natural to be in the role.
“There are some people who don't necessarily want to be leads, but I've always tended to have a gravitation towards being in a position of leadership or wanting to be a teacher later in my life,” she said.
Working with an all-Hispanic cast also brought a sense of comfort and belonging to the entire experience as the musical gets ready to premiere soon.
“There's just this unspoken understanding between all of us, where there's a sense of safety and camaraderie present without having to talk about it. I don't really have to explain myself in ways that I don't mind doing in other rooms because I understand that we all come from different cultures,” said Enriquez. “There's something special about not really having to, and having that just to be an unspoken understanding that's comforting, safe, and really inspiring because we get to then share that with everyone else.”
Evita premieres at Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA on Friday, Sept. 23 at 8 p.m. It runs until Sunday, Oct. 30.