Carmen Miranda Play Review - The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat

At the tiny Hudson Backstage Theatre in Hollywood, Carmen Miranda's memory is brought to life as the vivacious Magi Avila stars in the title role of " Carmen Miranda - The Lady in the Tutti Fruitti Hat".

A show that does not purport to be a documentary about Miranda's life but rather, tries to be a celebration of a unique and legendary entertainer, who brought joy to millions. It's a one women small stage show - some songs interspersed with monologues - with little else. Props are badly needed but with a curvaceous figure, Avila, in glittery black and gold costumes, manages to embody the Brazilian phemon with the greatest hits of the singer who was born in Brazil (1909 -1955) and became a huge star on Broadway and then Hollywood. There are songs but no real production numbers, sung by Avila and played by the live on stage band, but with little to look at other than Avila, the pressure is on to keep the audience riveted. A bit of humor is thrown in to pick up the pace.

Avila walks us through the story of Carmen Miranda's life though short dialogues directed at the small audience.

Miranda was a Portuguese-born Brazilian samba singer and Broadway actress popular in the 1940s and 1950s. She was, by some accounts, the highest-earning woman who made 13 movies between 1940 to 1953. In 1946 Carmen Miranda was Hollywood's highest earning star. The singer, dancer, actress was known for unabashedly Latin screen persona, her musical talent, sex appeal and distinctive fruit filled headpieces. She was the lady in the tutti fruitti hat like the title of the song of her film "The Gang's All Here."

Carefully stylized and outlandishly flamboyant Miranda succumbed to a fatal heart attack the night after her final television appearance on the Jimmy Durante Show, although she did not realize it. After completing a dance number (which was later aired on A & E's Biography episode about Miranda), she fell to her knees, and Durante told the band to "stop da music!". He helped Miranda up to her feet as she laughed "I'm all out of breath!". "Dat's OK, honey, I'll take yer lines", Durante replied. Miranda laughed again and quickly pulled herself together, finishing the show. At the end of the broadcast, she smiled and waved, then exited the stage. She died later that night after suffering a second heart attack at her home in Beverly Hills.

Her body was flown back to her beloved Brazil, where half a million mourners lined the streets. Dubbed "The Brazilian Bombshell", Miranda's Hollywood image was one of a generic Latinness that blurred the distinctions between Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, and Mexico as well as between samba, tango and habanera.

Blocks away from where Miranda holds a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and her footprints preserved in cement as part of Grauman's Chinese Theater collection, Avila tries to get us away from reminiscing about the Busby Berkley Productions Miranda starred in but it's difficult with no dancers and little else but a few dangling bananas. The audience cries out for dancers, a few samba moves, a salsa move, anything - thank goodness Avila is as infectious and lively as she is.

Beto Araiza directs this small production that has gone through a recent major downsizing of staff. Araiza is the former associated artistic director of Alice B. Theater, a playwright and nationally recognized performance artist. Sam Mossler is the playwright. Veteran Dennis Kaye is musical director. Choreographed by Daniel Coffman. Presented by Tocayo Productions, Inc., in association with Hudson Theatricals.

After interviewing Avila backstage following the show, I could see that Avila is as bubbly in person as on stage and her facial expressions truly mimic those of Miranda but her voice was sometimes drowned by the powerful Band musicians.

If you're a Carmen Miranda fan, as I am, you will be singing along to the songs, and wishing you had brought your castanets although craving more set design and more bananas! If you are not, you will be craving set design and elaborate production now that Broadway, Glee and Dancing with the Stars is part of our daily life but if you know ahead of time that it's a small one woman show - then the banana shortage will not bother you one bit!

Running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes.

Admission $45.00 USD.

Reservations (323) 960-7740

Online ticketing:

Shows run until June 27, 2010. show times Fri & Sat at 8, Sun. at 3.

Photos by Ed Krieger


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