‘Gimme a Band! Gimme a Banana! The Carmen Miranda Story’
Through Nov. 14
Logan Fringe Arts Space: Trinidad Theatre,
1358 Florida Ave NE
In 1945, Carmen Miranda was the highest paid woman in Hollywood. A talented entertainer with a comic flair, the “Brazilian bombshell” famous for her tutti-frutti hats was a wartime favorite who rose to stardom singing, dancing and malaproppng her way through a half dozen Technicolor feel-good films. But behind the laughing façade, things were sometimes grim.
With “Gimme a Band! Gimme a Banana!,” Pointless Theatre distills Miranda’s extraordinary bio to an engaging 60 minutes. Written by Mel Beiler and Patti Kalil and co-directed by Roberta Alves and Matt Reckeweg, the company’s latest offering unfolds lucidly and imaginatively through the sounds of samba and experimental multi-disciplinary theatre — puppetry, dance, music, mime and minimal dialogue.
Though it has the feel of a young production sometimes lacking finish, “Gimme a Band!” is not without strengths: foremost of which is an onstage and on point Brazilian band supplying the music of Miranda’s professional life spanning from Rio nightclubs to Hollywood studios including “Tico Tico No Fubá,” “South American Way” and “I, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi (I Like You Very Much).” There’s also Bieler and Kalil’s charming toy-like proscenium stage set framed in outsized banana leaves and flowers and delightful tropical bird puppets. And an keen young cast led by Sharalys Silva as Miranda
Of course, assaying a movie star is a tall order. Incredibly kinetic with flashing eyes and an enormous grin, Miranda was a singular presence. While Silva never reaches the manic madness captured in Miranda’s movies, she delivers an appealing, though decidedly milder, interpretation.
The show opens with Miranda’s heavily attended funeral in her native Rio, and then looks back. As a young shop girl Miranda is singled out for her vivacity and musical talent. She becomes Brazil’s top female recording artist at just 21.Theater great Lee Shubert (here played by Scott Whelan) launches her on Broadway, and soon after she conquers Hollywood.
But a stressed Miranda grapples with addiction. She relies on Benzedrine to meet her overwhelming work commitments and maintain her trademark gaiety. We watch as she marries an abusive opportunist, suffers a painful miscarriage and goes through a course of brutal electroshock therapy all backed by a mournful instrumental solo. She dies at 46.
Miranda was a specialty star and not a leading lady. Typically she was brought in to add some spice to a fluffy boy-meets-girl story set in an indeterminate South American locale with one of her exotic, upbeat numbers. “Gimme a Band!” offers a spare take on Miranda’s iconic Busby Berkeley-choreographed number “The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat” from the mindless but fun “The Gang’s All Here.” But instead of Miranda backed by a hundred chorines toting huge bright yellow, papier-mâché bananas, here there are only three. It’s fun, but projections might have helped convey the magnitude of Miranda’s persona. Also, there’s an unmemorable version of “The Enchilada Man” featuring Miranda with Dean Martin (Daniel Smeriglio) and Jerry Lewis (Whalen again).
In one the show’s highlights, Rebecca Ballinger steps out of the chorus to perform Cole Porter’s “Something for the Boys” as a knowing Hollywood nightclub singer.
Costume designer Frank Labovitz dresses showbiz Miranda in flattering skirts with thigh-high splits and fabulous turbans inspired by myriad things including an explosion of fireworks and a bowl of tossed salad complete with big fork and spoon. Miranda’s sensational head gear was originally inspired by the dress of Afro-Brazilian market women in Bahia (Brazil’s northeastern state) who carry produce on their heads.
Despite some missteps, “Gimme a Band!” succeeds in giving the essence of Miranda’s life. It was glorious and sad. She gave until she no longer could.