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Going Bananas with Brazil’s Carmen Miranda


Going Bananas with Brazil's Carmen Miranda

"I don’t think Carmen Miranda will ever be outdated because
she is so self-contained. She
encompasses so much joy to so
many people and politically, she’s so right on the mark. She
teaches us that
love, life and freedom come at a cost, and
that if you don’t do politics then politics will do you.

by:

Gustavo Brasileiro

 

On Saturday, November 1st, Hollywood saw the preview of
Carmen Miranda Goes Bananas, a play that revives Brazilian legend Carmen Miranda.
The show is based on the life of Hollywood’s icon, the "tutti-frutti" known as the "Brazilian Bombshell". She returns to
Hollywood by way of channeling into the body of a male protagonist, and proceeds into a process of self-discovery. She does
an inventory of her own bananas and what her life meant to her, while still being true to Bahia and herself as her sources of inspiration.

She is aided by the Orixás (it’s pronounced orishas and it means African deities) and is healed by them, finding
balance between Carmen, the entertainer "par excellence", and Carmen, the woman.


Right before his first presentation, Donald Bertao,
who wrote Carmen Miranda Goes Bananas and performs the play, talked to Brazzil about Carmen, the play and himself.

Brazzil—Why revive Carmen Miranda?

Donald—We need Carmen Miranda these days. She was aside from "Choc full’o’fun" a great
communicator as well. Also, people are forgetting to have fun and, ironically, are miscommunicating often in the age of computers.

Brazzil—Why the title Carmen Miranda Goes Bananas?

Donald—Going bananas is such an American expression, which allows Carmen to travel through time having the
freedom of thought and speech, while at the same time, giving new spaces for retrospective and introspective moments.

Brazzil—You are a dentist born and raised in Brazil, with an American mother and a Brazilian father, now living in
Los Angeles. Could tell us about your background?

Donald—My mother left Iowa in 1943, moving to Los Angeles, when Carmen Miranda was at her prime. My father,
a Brazilian dentist, had told her he would not return to Brazil until he married her. It took almost two years for that to
happen and my mother moved down to Rio de Janeiro not knowing a thing about the culture nor a word of Portuguese, but she
knew of Carmen Miranda and her movies.

Brazzil—What a cultural shock! I guess…

Donald—Cultural shocks did happen, and personally, I must say I had a greater culture-shock leaving New York for
Los Angeles, than leaving Rio for New York, and I give an explanation in the show for that. I had met Carmen’s sister at my
dad’s office in Copacabana about 20 years ago. Being a dentist myself who’s also performed in opera and musicals, I feel art
is the salvation of the soul and that there are too many soul-starved people out there who don’t even know what is missing
in their lives.

Brazzil—Did you have a bilingual education in Brazil?

Donald—I have Portuguese as my native language, English as my second. I learned French in school since
3rd or 4th grade, and since moving to California in 1984 I’ve learned Spanish. But like Carmen did so well, it was not the language, but
the communication behind it that was and still is of value.

Brazzil—Do you feel yourself more Brazilian, more American or 50-50?

Donald—Like Carmen I am Brazilian by soul, but there’s a Midwestern country boy and a pragmatic side part of me
that only a mother who’d stay home could give her children, and that is my American side.

Brazzil—What aspect of Carmem Miranda do you try to emphasize in your show?

Donald—That we need to take responsibility for ourselves individually and as a group, in happiness or in sadness,
and knowing that as long as we try our best, then that is all that matters.

Brazzil—Do you think she is not out of date?

Donald—I don’t think Carmen Miranda will ever be outdated because she is so self-contained. She encompasses so
much joy to so many people that I hope she will never be outdated nor too late for us to have fun. And politically, she’s so
right on the mark.

Brazzil—How can Carmen Miranda have something to say about the present world?

Donald—That love, life and freedom come at a cost, and that if you don’t do politics then politics will do you.

Brazzil—Why do you believe that she was influent and still can be influential through recreations like yours?

Donald—Because Carmen’s spirit enters the
body of a man, she can still be true to herself and still have Bahia as her
source of inspiration. She goes even a step further into the Orishas, the African deities, who can move energies into
self-awareness and self-acceptance.

Carmen Miranda Goes Bananas is written and performed by Donald Bertao and directed by Kevin Vavasseur. The
show will be the attraction of Masquer’s Cabaret" (8334 West
3rd St, Los Angeles) on Fridays and Saturdays until the end of
the year. Doors open 6:30 pm, while show starts 7:30 pm sharp. Tickets can be purchased with cash at the door or online
at www.carmenmirandagoesbananas.com

 

Gustavo Brasileiro is the editor of The Brazilian
Times (www.thebraziliantimes.com) and can be reached
at editor@thebraziliantimes.com

 

From the Press Release for Carmen Miranda Goes
Bananas:

DONALD BERTAO (writer/performer)—This production marks Donald’s first attempt at writing and producing.
He has performed in several local operas and musicals ranging from
The Marriage of Figaro to The Elixir of
Love to The Mikado. He carries his artistic verve and finds the demanding challenges this one-act play has to offer. Donald grew up in Rio de
Janeiro, Brazil, where he found the inspiration for this piece, and came to the realization that we cannot compare apples with bananas.

KEVIN VAVASSEUR (Director)—This is Kevin’s
6th show at Masquer’s Cabaret and he is very happy to be back.
Other credits include Lincoln Center’s Director’s Lab where he directed the world-premiere of
Excelsior for the American Living Room Series in Manhattan in July 2002. He helmed the well-received Variety Show, the
Rainbow Revue in Los Angeles.

He also served as artistic director for the Script Writer’s Network Staged Reading Series, where he developed,
produced and directed fully-staged readings of new screenplays. As an actor, he has worked at LATC, The Odyssey, Hudson and
Falcon Theaters.

An NAACP Image Award Nominee, he also has an extensive television and film production background, including 3
years as Creative Assistant to the President Worldwide Production, Columbia Pictures.

CARMEN MIRANDA—Her name was Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha, but to millions around the world she
was known as "the Brazilian Bombshell"…the very essence of Latin verve, fun and vitality. Carmen was born in the small
Portuguese town of Marco de Canavezes, in approximately 1909.

She was brought to Brazil as a young girl and it was there that she first entered show business. By 1939 she had
made some 400 recordings, starred in several Brazilian films, had become a household word throughout South America and a
national idol in Brazil when she was "discovered" for the American stage.

Her lively sambas, Carnaval marches, unique stage presence and highly demanding rapid-delivery numbers
completely overwhelmed audiences. Hollywood immediately clamored for this four foot-eight inch dynamo of talent who wore
three-inch platforms on her feet and an orchard on her head. After her first American film appearance in a Bette Grable
musical Down Argentine Way (20th-Century-Fox, 1940), Carmen Miranda belonged to the world.

"Carmen Miranda carried her country in her luggage, and taught people who had no idea of our existence to adore
our music and our rhythm. Brazil will always have an unpayable debt to Carmen
Miranda"—Villa-Lobos

ORIXÁS (Orishas)—Brazil’s African ancestors, the people of Yoruba and Angola, lived by a belief system holding
nature as their higher power, understanding the necessity to respect and honor the relationship between nature and human
beings. In Brazil, this system developed into the sacred practice of Candomblé.

The Orixás are elements of nature in divine form (deities) that are symbolically expressed through dance, music and
song. Each Orixá represents an aspect of the natural world and human nature. In Brazil, this religion survived by masking itself under the names of several catholic saints, but in reality, it has
more similarities to the Greek Gods and Greek mythology than to Christianity.

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