Say the name “Carmen Miranda” and immediately images of a crazy lady with a fruit bucket on her head probably pop into your brain. But there was so much more to this iconic star than the fruit.
The Brazilian samba singer, dancer and Broadway actress was a fan favorite in the ’30s and ’40s, but very little is known about the identity struggles she faced both on stage and off, as she fought to properly represent her home country and follow her dreams of being a Hollywood star.
Pointless Theatre is doing its part to tell her story, with the world debut production of Gimme a Band, Gimme a Banana! The Carmen Miranda Story, co-directed by Brazilian artist Roberta Alves and Pointless’ co-artistic director Matt Reckeweg.
“The show travels from Brazil to America and back, and the musicality of the show is what really drives the piece,” Reckeweg says. “The real appeal is the sound. I think American audiences have a fascination with samba music and when applied to a narrative, there is something very lively in it.”
Alves agrees that the music is a huge story-driver for the show, and that the play reveals a little bit about who Carmen Miranda really was, showcased through a mixture of flamboyant costumes, pantomime, dance, and puppetry.
“It’s a unique look into the mindset of this extraordinary Brazilian figure,” she says. “We’re trying to do justice to her and her life and hopefully give audiences a taste of the life she led.”
Written by Brazilian natives and company members Patti Kalil and Mel Bieler, the show draws inspiration from nostalgic images of Brazil, while alluding to classic 1940’s musical films and theater in the styles of Busby Berkeley and Lee Shubert. The chief playwrights are also the puppet designers of the show, which speaks to how the production planned for the visual effectiveness of the story from the start.
Alves was drawn to the project, she says, as a way to pay tribute to someone who is so important in her country.
GIMME A BAND! GIMME A BANANA! The Carmen Miranda Story
Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival
October 15 – November 14, 2015
at Logan Fringe Arts Space: Trinidad Theatre
1358 Florida Ave NE
Washington, DC 20002
Tickets: $20 – $25
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
“For me to have the opportunity to bring a little bit of Brazil’s culture to Washington, D.C. is unique,” Alves says. “It’s very important to me because of my background. I think Brazil culture has such a wide variety and here in the U.S. we only know about samba and not much else. This was a great way to explore the culture a bit more.”
Reckeweg wanted the chance to work with Alves and feels having two separate viewpoints is what makes the show so powerful.
“Roberta is coming from a Brazilian perspective and I’m coming from this very American perspective, and Carmen was stuck in the middle of those two things, so there’s been a really powerful story coming out,” he says. “I think our perspectives meet up very nicely and very appropriately to what Carmen may have experienced in her life.”
Of course, co-directing requires a delicate balancing act and both say they were careful to listen to the other and make sure all ideas were considered.
“The secret to collaboration is compromise,” Reckeweg says. “Everyone is going to envision every single moment and the fusion of these two ideas requires give and take, and respect.”
“Matt has a much stronger relationship with the American culture and I have the strong connection with the Brazil culture, so putting those together made a perfect combination,” Alves says.
Carmen Miranda was born in Portugal, spent most of her formative years in Brazil and then came to America to seek out her Hollywood dreams. When she returned to Brazil later in life, she didn’t always get the love and support one would expect from a “favorite daughter.”
“When she moved back, they felt as if she wasn’t Brazilian anymore, so it’s hard to know where home is and where your heart is, and that’s something we try to show in this musical,” Alves says.
Sharalys Silva takes on the role of Carmen Miranda and Alves describes her as “having a great voice” and doing wonderfully at “recreating Carmen without losing herself.”
The show is recommended for families of all ages, and Reckeweg notes that you don’t need to be familiar with Miranda and her career to enjoy the musical.
“Carmen Miranda is someone that everyone should know. There are few darker or sadder moments, but I think it’s a production that all ages can be charmed by,” he says.