About 200 Hollywood star footprints are outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre, but only one set belongs to the Brazilian starlet who balanced a tutti-frutti hat.
This month actress and La Cañada Flintridge resident Magi Avila will play the curvaceous Hollywood sensation
in the original musical world premiere of "Carmen Miranda — The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat."
The play tells the story of sultry Latin persona Carmen Miranda, who was born in 1909 in Portugal and raised in
. Miranda's career began as a radio singer and actor in Brazilian films. She made her way to the U.S. with Broadway performances and made 13 Hollywood films, including her role as the lady in the tutti-frutti hat, which was the title song in the film "The Gang's All Here."
Avila will perform 16 of Miranda's songs with a live band onstage. For Avila, this was an iconic role she simply couldn't turn down.
"She's such an inspiration, a wonderful woman, a hard worker," she said. "She knew and she had it very clear in her mind that her role in the world was to make people happy and entertain them. Her music is so joyful."
Miranda was one of the highest-paid women in the U.S. and the ninth-highest-paid person in the U.S. during the 1940s.
Avila found similarities and differences between herself and Brazil's biggest star. Like Miranda, she comes from humble beginnings. Both of their fathers were barbers, and their mothers were cooks.
Avila is from Mexico and doesn't speak Portuguese fluently like Miranda, so she had to learn the accent. To master her role, Avila read Miranda's biography, "Carmen," and interviewed people who knew her.
The lead actress found her research challenging as she began to know the woman behind the outlandish hats.
"The challenge for me was to understand the depths of the human being and what makes you happy or unhappy and what makes you be at peace," Avila said. "To get to this conclusion after studying the character was that we must be at peace and happy with what we have and surround ourselves with nice people. She had a lot of people who loved her, and she loved everybody. She was a very open, loving person."
The singer, dancer and actress died very unhappy at age 46 after suffering a
on the evening of her final television performance. Her early death was attributed to a bad marriage to her husband and manager, who allegedly overworked and beat her.
"The husband that she chose was a grumpy man," Avila said. "When you don't have that moral support from your family and loved ones, and when you're really tired and you haven't had a break, then you start melting down. I don't think Carmen had that [support]. She wasn't surrounded by good people at the end of her life."
The role of Carmen Miranda is a huge responsibility, Avila said.
"People remember her because of that tutti-frutti hat, but in this play we're trying to show the person behind that," she said. "She was a very successful woman ahead of her time. She can be such an inspiration for any person in the world with any career."
"Carmen Miranda — The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat" will show from Friday through June 27 at Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6339 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Show times for Friday and Saturday begin at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.
Admission for the play is $45. To make a reservation, visit