By Don Heckman
It wasn’t exactly Carnival time Friday night at the Hollywood Bowl, but the season’s Fireworks Finale program had all the rhythm, song and spirit of Brazil’s irrepressible Mardi Gras celebrations.
It began on a high note, with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Wilkins, performing a collection of works with various Brazilian connections. Ary Baroso’s familiar “Aquarela Do Brasil” — perhaps the oldest Braziian song universally known in this country; a lovely medley of songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim, beautifully arranged by Dick Hazard; “Amazon Journey: by Matt Naughtin — long on atmosphere, less intriguing musically; and — apparently because it is a popular work in Brazil — John Barry’s theme from Somewhere In Time, an odd inclusion at best.
The first of the evening’s two Brazilian performers had a familiar name. Bebel Gilberto is the daughter of Joao Gilberto, the bossa nova master, and singer Miucha Buarque. But she has thoroughly established herself as a major star in her own right, and she paced the Bowl stage with the sort of diva confidence, spirited vocalizing and sensual dance moves that were rarely present in a previous performance at the venue in 1991. She was especially appealing in an effervescent rendering of the Carmen Miranda classic, “Chica Chica Boom.”
Brazilian singer/songwriter/actor Seu Jorge has made the difficult trip from the favelas to high successes in music and film. His dark, growly voice is a surprisingly pliable instrument, and his capacity to inject meaning into his musical phrases produces an emotional impact that transcends language. One of the most intriguing entries in a program reaching from Braziian funk rhythms to lyrical balladry was his version of David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” from the album, The Life Aquatic Studio Sessions, a fascinating reinvention of the Bowie songbook.
But it remained — predictably — for the fireworks finale to ultimately steal the show. Underscored by the HBO performing “A Carmen (Miranda) Fantasy,” the spectacular pyrotechnics soared into the sky as a colorful troupe of feathered and sequined dancers, accompanied by gyrating capoeira artists, paraded across the stage. Then, as though all that wasn’t enough, Gilberto and Jorge returned for a delightful take on Gilberto Gil’s jaunty “Bananeira” — a perfect coda to an entertaining evening.
“Blame It On Rio” with Seu Jorge, Bebel Gilberto and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra continues at the Hollywood Bowl through Sunday, Sept. 13.