It's a combination carnival, circus, Ziegfeld Follies and Las Vegas. It's lush costumes, beautiful women, bare breasts and muscled guys in designer jock straps flipping through the air in gravity-defying acrobatics. It's fanny-shaking dancers streaming into the audience under a barrage of balloons to commandeer partners in a sort of mini-bacchanal. Yes, friends, it's whoopee time at the Ambassador Theater, where "Oba Oba" opened last night.
"Oba Oba" is an attempt to paint, through song and dance, a portrait of Brazilian culture, which has been nourished by black, Indian and Portuguese influences.
If the portrait is accurate, then Brazil is the place to be - at least if you have money and are there in carnival time. "Oba Oba" is something like a series of coming attractions that parade the best parts of a company's repertoire.
For students of Las Vegas lavish, "Oba Oba" will be something less than a revelation. And when the company trots out its homage to Carmen Miranda, the echoes of vintage Hollywood musicals become very strong.
Still, it's exciting, primarily because the songs are splendidly performed, especially by Brazilian star Eliana Estevao, and the dances and rhythms soar with infectious vigor. "Oba Oba" doesn't give off the synthetic vibes of South American imitations, however commercial it may be. Despite the extravaganza production, the integrity of the culture shines through.
Brazil seemed - to forge a phrase - to be going nuts in New York last night. It was scarcely carnival time down the Great White Way, and this, despite the earlier spring sunshine, was certainly not Rio.
But all the same, here at the Ambassador Theater we had "Oba Oba," some kind of extravaganza revue, ostensibly in the living spirit of Hollywood's erstwhile favorite Carmen Miranda, while, opening a little later up the street, there was that Grupo de Danca do Brasil, which calls itself Cisne Negro and has our own Fernando Bujones, as well as Japan's Yoko Morishita, as guest artists.
The revue seems to have a little in common with Paris' Folies Bergere in the latter days of its folly. It is brash, commercial, loud, noisy and, above all, touristic.
The pretty girls are like so many Brazilian bombshells bombarding the senses - and the boys, particularly in some well-judged acrobatics, are pretty bombarding as well.
Fascinatingly, "Oba Oba" would have seemed old-fashioned 30 years ago, and although it possesses a thinly cosmetic folkloric veneer, and even the arty naivete of a Rousseau-like setting, Katherine Dunham it ain't.
Indeed, what it is largely is an undemanding, gently sexy entertainment for couch potatoes tired of couching potatoes and wanting an untiring night on the town.
The best thing about the show is its air of good nature that runs through the whole evening from the engaging girls (occasionally bare-breasted) swirling up their skirts almost neck-high at the drop of a samba, right on to the finale where the cast incites the audience to dance with it in the aisles.
America's love affair with Brazilian music is so long-established that the music, with its bossa nova rhythms and suggestions of conga-lines along the Copacabana beach, is more nostalgic than anything else.
One thing "Oba Oba" does lack is the unifying presence of a major star. The listed star, Eliana Estevao, has a quite agreeable voice with a lightly throbbing vibrato, but she, like the other principal singer, a happily diffident Milze Carvalho, is not the kind of personality to burn down a theater, or even singe its curtains with a little smoldering.
Actually this lack proved tactlessly emphasized by an inept imitation of Carmen Miranda that crudely suggested that the producers were only too aware of the gap.
Also, for this kind of extravaganza nothing was quite extravaganza enough - the show needs about another two million bucks to be invested in its production values to be the spectacular evening it clearly aspires to be.
But the music is fun, the cast is lively, and we have all seen many more pretentious shows deliver less. If they could have gotten a new Carmen Miranda in there, it might have been in terrific shape.
''Oba Oba,'' the glitzy Brazilian music-and-dance extravaganza that has settled in at the Ambassador Theater for a limited run, is a circusy nightclub pageant whose attractive, scantily clad performers never stop smiling as they scamper about the stage and parade through the aisles. ''Exotic,'' ''torrid,'' and ''scintillating'' - adjectives that have a slightly quaint 50's ring - are among the words that spring to mind in trying to evoke the mood of a festive revue whose performers include voluptuous, bare-breasted women, well-muscled acrobats doing running handstands, and an adoring tribute to Carmen Miranda in which several pounds of wax fruit and flowers adorn the performers' heads.
The show, which features 50 dancers, singers and musicians, originated as a tourist attraction in Rio de Janiero in the mid 1970's and went on to tour the European continent. Although purporting to offer a survey of Brazilian cultural history, it is really a theatricalized MGM-style musical brochure that reinforces stereotypical images of the country as the land of nonstop carnival. Made up of over a dozen set pieces, each introducing us to a different aspect of Brazilian culture, it barely pauses for breath as it hurtles from tableau to tableau.
Between its opening number - an erotic-historic fable about a beautiful slave girl who wins the heart of a Portuguese nobleman - and its final audience-participation carnival parade through the aisles of the theater, ''Oba Oba'' presents some highly professional musicians and dancers offering flashy demonstrations of Brazilian folk instruments and dances. ''Acrobatic Capoeira,'' the evening's most spectacular sequence, features seven lithe male dancers sprinting, tumbling, and spinning on their heads in a crowd-pleasing display of a martial arts-oriented folk dance.
The official star of a show that boasts many skillful performers is Eliana Estevao, a brassy, big-voiced singer who began her career in 1972 in a Brazilian production of ''Jesus Christ Superstar.'' Presiding over the evening, Ms. Estevao exudes a gregarious vivacity as she applies her large reedy voice to national signature songs by Ary Barroso, Antonio Carlos Jobim and others. Even singing a medley of ''Over the Rainbow,'' ''Lullaby of Broadway,'' and ''New York, New York,'' at the finale, her sweetness triumphs over a hackneyed idea.
Wilson Mauro, the show's musical director has found an effective counterbalance to Ms. Estevao's ebullience in Nilze Carvalho, a younger, more demure singer and instrumentalist who plays the bandolim (a small Brazilian guitar) and possesses a silky girlish voice. Throughout the evening, the musical forces driving the show constantly change in size and shift their location, moving from the boxes in the balcony into various configurations on the stage. ''Rhythm Beaters'' demonstrates an impressive range of Brazilian percussion, from thunderous congas to small metallic drums. The ''Berimbeau Medley'' offers a sort of ''Dueling Banjos'' for two instrumentalist-dancers playing the Brazilian musical crossbows. Jaime Santos, a superb young accordionist, is also an important recurring musical contributor.
Though the show's skin-deep portrait of Brazil as a ''primitive'' paradise falls somewhere in sophistication between Carmen Miranda and ''Black Orpheus,'' its energy and color should give it a wide popular appeal. Imagine the Radio City Music Hall's ''Magnificent Christmas Spectacular'' with a samba beat.