Ay! Ay! Ay! She’s the lady with the tutti-frutti hat on her head! Singing sensation, Brazilian beauty, Carmen Miranda has her whole story explained in Pointless Theatre’s world premiere production of Gimme a Band, Gimme a Banana! The Carmen Miranda Story. Directed by Roberta Alves and Matt Reckeweg, this show appears as part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival and is an intriguing examination of a popularized figure told through interpretive movement and song. Not a traditional show by any stretch of the imagination, the performance seems to fit the bill for the sort of work achieved and accomplished by the company.
The show is a curious coagulation of positive and negative moments that make it difficult to enjoy thoroughly but equally difficult to be solidly disappointed by the experience. The fact that without the intermission the show would run just shy of 45 minutes raises the question of Directors Roberta Alves and Matt Reckeweg to include it, especially considering how slowly the momentum seems to build throughout the first act of the show. Breaking up already languid moving intrigue in the show with a pause that feels plenty superfluous does not keep the interest of theatergoers with ease.
Co-Written by Mel Bieler and Patti Kalil, the show itself is deeply flawed in its existence and execution. No different from Evita, save for the fact that the story is focused on Carmen Miranda, in its linearity— right down to starting with the funeral procession of the dearly departed— through to its fairytale nature until it all comes crumbling down, the story lacks originality. While the music is extremely entertaining, written by a plethora of sources and performed mostly by the title character (accompanied by a live band on-stage), the songs are not enough to hold the work together. Feeling more like a teaser of what could be a solid musical with great potential, the show as a whole fails to feel completed. Musical Director Patricia Vegara brings exceptional skill to the production ensuring that the live band (composed of five live-playing individuals) balances well and does not overplay Carmen Miranda (Sharalys Silva) or the others when the songs are being sung.
The beauty of the production lies in the aesthetic. Scenically the show is quite striking. With tropical Brazilian flowers and foliage in striking white draped over the frame of the stage (general scenic design done by the co-writers with additional scenery provided by Renegade Productions) the festive fruity notions of Miranda’s music is lit with gaiety and merriment by Lighting Designer Max Doolittle. A great deal of the show’s more pleasing atmospheric moments come from Doolittle’s projected color work.
Pointless places their company hallmark on the show by adding in Puppets, designed by Bieler and Kalil. Co-Directors Roberta Alves and Matt Reckeweg use their knowledge of puppetry as well as silent-movement adaptation to keep the ensemble members moving fluidly through the scenes. Performances individually across the board from the ensemble are solid, albeit confusing because of the show’s general lack of dialogue and music sung in Portuguese.
Sharalys Silva makes her US performance debut with Pointless Theatre in The Carmen Miranda Story and does give a striking performance despite the book’s many faults. Sweet, innocent, and yet vivaciously vibrant, Silva possess the look, sound, and charisma of the iconic Brazilian performer known best for her dances in the tutti-frutti hat. With a dulcet tone she is able to imbue clear and understandable emotions into her songs even though most of them are not sung in English.
Casting the perfect rainbow of colors across the aesthetic to complete the look of Carmen Miranda, Costume Designer Frank Labovitz makes his mark on the production with flare. Wildly colorful dresses for not only the title character but the villagers of her hometown, Labovitz captures the energy and emotional essence of the story.
Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes with one intermission
Gimme a Band, Gimme a Banana! The Carmen Miranda Story plays through November 14, 2015 at Pointless Theatre as a part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival in the Trinidad Theatre of the Logan Fringe Arts Space— 1358 Florida Avenue NE in Washington, DC. For tickets call the box office at (202) 733-6321 or purchase them online.