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‘Oba Oba’: The Color, Music, and Diversity That Is Brazil

“Oh boy! Oh boy!” That’s a rough translation of “Oba Oba,” an energetic pastiche of Brazilian song, dance, acrobatics and merriment, opening Friday at the Pantages. The 60-member company arrives in town after cheers in Italy, France, Spain, Israel, Switzerland, Las Vegas and New York.

“It’s like a magazine of all the exotic things from Brazil,” explained singer Eliana Estevao, who headlines “Oba Oba.” Through a translator, Estevao added in Portuguese that “Brazil has many cultures--the North region is different from the South and the East and West--and this show covers all the different parts, the color and diversity.”

Songs include “Manha de Carnaval,” “The Girl From Ipanema,” “Tico Tico” and “Brazil”; the regional dances range from the bossa nova to the samba, the berimbau , the maculele and the capoeria (Estevao’s favorite), a martial arts-like Bahian dance performed by the men in the troupe.

Her four years on the road with “Oba Oba” have also opened Estevao’s eyes to many other cultures.

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She gives high marks to Las Vegas, where the company performed in a showroom (of that setting, she marvels, “Even when Frank Sinatra was singing, they were eating and drinking”), but was far less enamored of New York: “Too crowded, too violent, the traffic--it was very scary.” She’s already a fan of Disneyland, the beaches of Santa Monica and Malibu, and the stars that pave the sidewalk outside the Pantages on Hollywood Boulevard.

“Everywhere I look, I see stars,” she said happily. Favorite actor she’d like to meet? Clark Gable. Of the living variety? Robert Redford.

In the show, Estevao (who began voice lessons at age 3, launched her career in a Brazilian company of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and later worked with singer-composer Toquinho in the musical “Cantabrasil”) helps pay tribute to another Hollywood star, Carmen Miranda.

“She was ahead of her time,” said the singer. “Americans were fascinated by those high heels she wore, the fruits on her head; she was very exotic. In our show, a girl comes out with a basket of fruit--then along come 10 other girls, all playing Carmen Miranda. We’re honoring her because she was the first Brazilian singer and actress to bring Brazilian music and culture outside the country.”

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That’s the renewed hope of Franco Fontana, an Italian impresario who’s reshaped “Oba Oba” since he discovered Osvaldo Sargentelli’s original revue in 1982.

“I hope audiences in Los Angeles can enjoy the show--and at the same time understand the meaning,” said the producer. “When the message arrives to the audience, it’s in a very simple way, yet a very spectacular way. Eliana speaks a little English in the show--she learned what she must say--and in an informal way gives some information about the numbers. And the rest of the show is so clear that I feel there’s no language barrier.

“Everywhere has been like this,” he added. “We manage to transmit to people the element that Brazil has: the beauty, the communication and energy and joy of life. In the last 15 minutes of the show, (the company) comes into the audience, and we transform it into Carnaval.” He smiled. “The show is, in form, variety, but substantially it is not variety; it is more important. It cannot be classified as ballet, opera, drama or musical--because it’s not. It’s something different .”


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