Wishing for a mid-winter break, but short on time and money? Look no further: the theatrical spectacle Brazil! Brazil! at the New Victory Theater provides a very affordable whirlwind sightseeing adventure and cultural experience for you and your family, without even leaving the heart of midtown.
The stately yet petite theater is filled with family-friendly staff and facilities that get the whole gang excited for the show. As the curtain rises, the audience is transported to the heart of Brazil using a unique blend of singing, samba, capoeira (a combination of martial arts, acrobatics and dance), and even football tricks (that’s “soccer” for any confused Americans thinking of tumbling linebackers). Though there really isn’t a plot, a large video display follows a football and some locals through the streets, beaches and rainforests of Brazil. The football and the cast seem to pop right from the video onto the stage, better than any cinematic 3-D effect.
Gorgeous vocals and a five-piece band add a soulful soundtrack to this guided tour, filled with so much expression it doesn’t matter that it is almost entirely in Portuguese. Though each musician has featured time, the most impressive instruments are homemade percussion instruments, which use everyday items to create glass bottle chimes, water jug timpani and tire drums. When they do infectious call-and-response clapping, even the most rhythmically challenged are sure to join in.
Besides the video screen and musicians’ platform, there isn’t much of a set, but the design elements create bold stage pictures filled with Brazilian flavor. Ryan J. O’Gara’s lighting establishes moods using beautiful washes and color splashes. Lively costumes by Holly Cain reflect these colors in typical street-wear and bright yellow and green football uniforms. The ambiance and costumes make it seem like you are experiencing the highlights of Brazil, and you wish you could capture each scene as a mental postcard.
But the best highlights of all are the live performances. Whether you have a sports aficionado or a graceful ballroom dancer in your family, there is something for everyone with so many types of movement. Marcos Santana’s inventive choreography particularly shines. Lead dancer Gianne Abbott commands the audience’s attention with her nonstop, full-throttle moves, but the most jaw-dropping performances are by the freestyle footballers. With no nets to protect the audience (because the balls never even wobble, let alone get away), they balance and manipulate footballs with precise flicks, swoops or pops of various body parts, but, of course, never the hands. This spectacular, circus-like art form elicits gasps and exclamations of wonder (and not just from the kids). A dance/football duet featuring both Ms. Abbott and the top freestyler, John Farnworth, is simply magical.
To top it all off, this adventure is also educational without watering down the information for children. The video uses an Eric Carle-like map of South America that is almost like wall art, plus inconspicuous maps featuring the Brazilian flag painted on drumheads. The show’s only English-speaking section focuses on the importance of football and legacy of athletic superstar Pelé with a dance/football fusion segment. You also get a taste of the cultural event Carnaval, complete with face masks and feathers, in the last stop of the Brazilian staycation.
Brazil! Brazil! is perfect for children and families or anyone who wants to have a giddy ride to South America and back. Scenes probably gloss over any darker side of the favelas because of family audiences, but also, perhaps, because of the celebratory Brazilian spirit - a former colony that now thrives with its own culture of singing, dancing and football. Join them on this journey and you’ll leave the theater uplifted and cheering, "Oba oba oba!"
Photo credits: Kenny Mathieson