Those of us at a certain age grew up with the image of Carmen Miranda as the exotic Brazilian fruit wearing artist who was all the rage in the 1950’s. With Gimme a Band!, Pointless Theatre provides glimpses of the woman beneath the “tutti-frutti” hats.
The musical relies on Brazilian songs and music to take us from the story’s jubilant highs to the lowest lows of loss and despair. No matter what the circumstance, a song will break out to relay the story delivered by a terrific ensemble lead by Sharalys Silva in the titular role.
Sharalys Silva’s soft tones caress the songs rather than belt them out — what she lacks in vocal volume and range she more than makes up for in charisma and charm. Her hips are in non-stop motion and, with her beguiling brown eyes and flashing smile, she’s irresistible and she knows it. She oozes sex appeal with every move and sizzles across the stage in dazzling costumes (Frank Labovitz with assistant design by Camille Petrillo.) The colorful swirling skirts, pill box hats and the fruit accented attire command the stage along with the signature banana hat.
Amanda Leigh Corbett spices up the dance moves in the ensemble along with Phillip da Costa, while Belen Oyola-Rebaza, a mainstay at GALA Hispanic Theater shares her formidable acting skills portraying Miranda’s caring sister.
As in previous Pointless productions, the energetic dances number are like an electric current that carry the energy throughout the show. Since a specific dance captain is not identified, the message seems to be that the movement sprang organically from the company in the style of the legendary Busby Berkeley under the direction of Roberta Alves, who makes her Pointless debut co-directing with Matt Reckeweg. She hails from Rio de Janeiro, adding an authentic touch to the style and flow of the show.
The musicians swing with tropical flair, shifting from samba to salsa with ease while joining in the hip-shaking themselves. They use the small Trinidad space effectively with mellow tones that never overpower the voices, under music director Patricia Vergara. As with many of the cast members, the musicians are also first-time Pointless players and bring a rich cultural history to the production, starting with Pablo de Oliveira on the legacy instrument the Cavaquinho; Livaldi “Babajan” Da Cruz percussion with roots in Bahia; Michel Nirenberg a Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and composer; and guitarist Tom Rohde with a degree in the instrument and plays the Brazilian instrumental style Choro.
The always reliable Pointless puppetry, a trademark for this young innovative company, helps tell the story beneath the surface by creating a sense of movement and space in the carnival scene that’s timeless and touching. Miranda has just returned to her homeland, devastated by personal loss, after being tossed and tumbled in the frenzy of American success. A colorful swooping bird brings a sense of otherworldliness and wonder to the scene and imaginatively alters space and reality.
Pointless Theater uses its strong suit of physicality and movement, rather than text, to let the heart and flavor of Carmen Miranda’s story come through. For specifics, you have to read up on your own.
Raised in Rio de Janeiro, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the African-infused black culture, Carmen Miranda was influenced by the black and brown-skinned Bahian market women. The looks, sounds and rhythms of the women became her trademark that she scooped up from the lower-echelon and swiveled all the way to Hollywood.
Gimme a Band!’s backdrop scenery reflects that she started off in millinery, making hats. For her early performances in the Rio nightclubs, she sported cute pillbox hats delicately adorned with feathers or colorful touches. But once she became America’s favorite exotic, her looks grew big and rambunctious, out of proportion, kind of the American way, and slipped into stereotype that lent itself to parody. Her husband, who called the shots in America, neglected, abused and cheated on her, doped her up with drugs and even shock treatments to keep her under control.
The musical leaves us with missing pieces that beg to be explored.
GIMME A BAND! GIMME A BANANA! The Carmen Miranda Story
Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival
October 15 – November 14
at Logan Fringe Arts Space: Trinidad Theatre
1358 Florida Ave NE
Washington, DC 20002
1 hour, 20 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $20 – $25
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
For example, when Miranda returns to Rio, jubilant from American success, she’s derided by the townspeople who rip her costumes and scowl with displeasure. The implication is that she has misused her heritage and is called to task, but what’s not stated is that, per the co-playwrights in a recent interview, she was a white woman who grew up in the backstreets, adding even further intrigue about her cultural heritage. There are lots of intricacies and layers to this fascinating character and the musical’s non-textural script can only go so far.
Playwrights Mel Bieler and Patti Kalil, who, like director Alves are also Brazilian, respect the history, legacy, and conflicting demands on an artist caught up in the swirl of frenetic stereotype. Just as their character asks herself, the playwrights also ponder “Where do we belong?” posing a universal question for anyone caught up in escalating demands to succeed.
Acquiring permission to perform such a complete range of Miranda-inspired musical numbers from the Cole Porter Trust and others is no small feat, and that Pointless successfully negotiated those special arrangements is a reflection of the Company’s tenacity, guts and gumption. Delivering Gimme a Band! Gimme a Banana! – The Carmen Miranda Story in the innovative Fringe space, Pointless Theatre continues to blend fun entertainment with remarkable imagination and artistry.
Gimme a Band! Gimme a Banana! – The Carmen Miranda Story . Play, Set and Puppets: Patti Kalil and Mel Bieler . Directed by Roberta Alves and Matt Reckeweg . Featuring Angeleaza Anderson, Rebecca Ballinger, Amanda Leigh Corbett, Philip da Costa, Belén Oyola-Rebaza, Daniel Smeriglio and Scott Whalen . Assistant Costume Design: Camille Petrillo . Masks: Nick Martin . Lights: Max Doolittle . Sound: Michael Winch. Stage Manager: Renee Nyack . Produced by Pointless Theatre . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.
Running Time –80 minutes with one intermission
Rating– Four Stars ****