By Joe Straw
Carmen Miranda was a Brazilian legend long before she became a superstar in the United States. She was one of the highest paid entertainers in Hollywood during her time and what a wonderful way to recreate the magic of those times with the play, Carmen Miranda The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat, written by Sam Mossler and directed by Beto Araiza at the Hudson Backstage Theatre.
Magi Avila as Carmen is absolutely fantastic! Her smile in her musical numbers radiates a pleasure and passion that cannot be described. The musical numbers are an astonishing achievement that will have you smiling from beginning to end. Avila gives it her all with songs such as Mamae Eu Quero, Tico Tico, South American Way, I, Yi Yi, Yi, Yi, I Like you Very Much, Chica Chica Boom Chic, and Cuanto Le Gusta.
Carmen’s costumes are marvelous and her hats are equally fun. What makes this all the more remarkable is that Avila designed all of her costumes.
And what is it about a woman with fruit on her head, sequins on her clothing, and swinging hips that makes her so alluring? One need only view the show and affirm your instinctive biological drive.
Backed by a seven-piece orchestra, the night was a musical fun filled night, delightful in many ways, and wonderful throughout the night. Some of the members of the band played various personalities from her heyday. Geremy Dingle was wonderful as Lee Schubert and imitated a number of personalities including Jimmy Durante, Jerry Lewis, Cary Grant, and Mel Torme.
Jeff Markgraft, the bass player, played Dean Martin and Eddie Jackson not great impersonations but workable, nevertheless a very fine musician.
Dennis Kaye, the musical director as well as the producer, kept things lively and sparkling with his seven piece orchestra (something rare in Equity Waiver theatre) which included Dingle on trombone, Markgraft on bass, Michael L. Solomon on drums, Ron Hershewe on guitar, Cengiz Yaltkaya on piano and Bob Couto on trumpet.
The show has a lot more to offer but because it is in its infancy stage it has the capacity to grow a great deal. Think of this as the out of town tryouts. Written by Sam Mossler it briefly touches on Carmen’s life. It is not very dramatic in its book but there was a quiet moment near the end of the show that spoke to the heart. Still, the show doesn’t lead to that point. We are in fact missing the core that should carry the show from beginning to the very dramatic ending.
One question remains: Is it a nightclub act or a musical? (Okay, two questions.)
If it’s something more than a nightclub act then we need to see all that comes with having a successful life. It’s not enough to see Carmen floating through life without conflict. We need to experience conflict through her song and her dramatic life. And there is plenty there to bring on stage. Love lost, bad marriage, drugs etc., and overcoming incredible obstacles are constant themes in Hollywood. The final resolution makes the journey heartfelt.
As it is now the director, Beto Araiza, uses the audience as a confessor but is it possible a bandleader as confessor could be an answer? Also, with the show growing as it is, Beto needs to throw out the bad and bring in more of the good. And there is a lot of good in this show.
Daniel Coffman, the choreographer, brings Carmen to life. It is a very nice job. Adalberto Lujan, the Set Designer, provides us with a set that looks like a Las Vegas set up, but very nicely done. Steven Pope, Lighting Designer, needs a spotlight on Carmen, which might be difficult to do in this 99-seat theatre.
The Hudson Backstage Theatre is not a good theater for sound. There are some problems hearing Magi Avila’s beautiful voice, as she articulates difficult Carmen Miranda songs, in Portuguese no less.
Carmen Miranda died at the age of 46 from a second heart attack the night she had finished filming The Jimmy Durante t.v. show. Her first heart attack is shown on a YouTube video while she was dancing a vigorous dance number with Jimmy Durante.
Hudson Backstage Theater
6539 Santa Monica Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90038
Through June 27, 2010