Desperate for an antidote to the doom-and-gloom media coverage of the Rio Olympics, eager to show different images of their city than polluted water and heavily armed police, the day has finally arrived for the Brazilians to do what they do best — throw a party.
And though Friday night’s Opening Ceremonies (7:30 p.m., NBC) at iconic Maracana Stadium will break from the opulent tradition of the spectacles hosted by Beijing and London, the 10,000 athletes and expected TV audience of three billion will be treated to a carnival of samba, bossa nova, and scantily clad dancers shaking their hips. Word is soccer legend Pelé has been asked to light the Olympic cauldron.
“I hope that the Opening Ceremony will be a drug for depression in Brazil,” said Oscar-nominated film director Fernando Meirelles, who is overseeing the show. “Brazilians can look at it and say we are a cool people, we are different ethnic groups, we live together, we never went to war, we are peaceful, we know how to enjoy life and we tend to be happy.”
And no, Meirelles said, there is no truth to the widely spread internet rumor that Brazilian supermodel Gisele (wife of Tom Brady) Bundchen was to be mugged by a young black male while sashaying down a runway as part of the “Girl from Ipanema” part of the show. The skit, which was rehearsed earlier in the week, was supposed to portray a street vendor chasing Bundchen for a selfie, but it was misinterpreted, Meirelles said, and will likely be dropped from the program.
The 555-member USA delegation will be wearing Polo Ralph Lauren and led by flag-bearer Michael Phelps, the swim star and winner of 22 Olympic medals, 18 of them gold.
The letters “USA” will be illuminated on the back of his blazer — powered by eight AA batteries. The American parade costumes include blue blazers, white jeans, and a red-white-blue striped T-shirt to match the red-white-blue boat shoes.
Among the other flag-bearers in the parade of 207 nations: tennis stars Rafael Nadal (Spain), Andy Murray (Great Britain) and Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark); sprint queen Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (Jamaica); NBA player Luis Scola (Argentina); pentathlete Yane Marques (Brazil); wrestler Mijain Lopez (Cuba); and fencer Lei Sheng (China).
Word is each nation’s delegation will be escorted in by its own little samba band.
France’s team will be outfitted by LaCoste, Italy’s by Armani, Great Britain’s by Stella McCartney, Sweden’s by H&M, Canada’s by cutting-edge Dsquared2, and Cuba’s by French luxury shoe designer Christian Louboutin.
Angelica Delgado, a Miami judoka who graduated from Ferguson High, missed the 2012 Olympics by one spot. She is beyond excited to be competing in Rio and has been anticipating marching in the Opening Ceremonies since she was a little girl.
“Just getting all the USA gear is so cool,” Delgado said. “I love to shop, so this is amazing to be getting all this USA gear that only Olympians get. And then I can’t even imagine what it will be like to be in the Opening Ceremony. I’d love to get a selfie with Usain Bolt, or the USA gymnasts. It’s what every kid dreams about when they think of the Olympics.”
University of Miami diver Sam Dorman, competing in synchronized diving, said: “Definitely looking forward to the Opening Ceremony. I’ve heard it’s an amazing experience. I’ve never seen it before. So, I’m going to have my Go Pro and every camera I have possible to document the whole thing. I want to meet as many people as possible.”
The ceremony will have a call for peace, a “garden” section dedicated to Brazil’s natural beauty, and a “creativity” section about how Brazilians make the best of what they have. British actress Judi Dench and 86-year-old Oscar-nominated Brazilian actress Fernanda Montenegro will read the classic poem A Flor e a Nausea (Flower and Nausea) about a flower growing in the asphalt in a heavily polluted city.
Many of Brazil’s most famous musicians, including Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, will participate, as will some artists of funk Carioca, a type of local hip-hop.
Fashion model Lea T will be the first transgender celebrity to appear in an Olympics Opening Ceremonies.
The show will feature 300 professional dancers and 5,000 volunteers.
Meirelles, best-known for his Oscar-nominated film “City of God,” was asked to slash his original budget. The show will cost 12 times less than the one at the 2012 London Olympics and 20 times less than the extravaganza put on by the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“At first I was very upset, you start thinking something very big and then you have to cut, cut, cut,” Meirelles said. “On the other hand, it is good in some way because we are in a moment in the world where we need to be reasonable with the way we spend money. The environment can’t handle it any more, we are warming the planet. It is pretty tacky to be overspending.
“It is not a good message for the world. When 40 percent of the homes in Brazil have no sanitation, you can’t really be spending a billion reals for a show. In the end, I feel good that I am not spending money that Brazil hasn’t got. You can do something with heart, with concept, without spending.”