A report by Philip Potempa for the Chicago Tribune.
The Latin beats, music and showmanship of big bandleaders of the early 1950s, such as Desi Arnaz and Xavier Cugat, helped promote the growing popularity and success of themed nightclubs prospering in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Los Angeles had The Mocambo. And on the East Coast, thrill seekers flocked to New York City’s The Copacabana.n Chicago, the counterpart hotspot was La Havana Madrid, located at Belmont and Sheffield.
Besides the excitement on stage and the crowded dance floor showcasing salsas, rumbas, sambas, tangos and other familiar favorites like the cha-cha-cha and the paso doble, the lives of the patrons and performers, with their woven hopes, dreams and challenges in the U.S., also shared a similar spotlight.
After sold-out runs at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company and The Miracle Center in Logan Square, Teatro Vista has remounted a new run of “La Havana Madrid” by Sandra Delgado now at the Goodman Theatre through Aug. 20, recreating the energy and passionate tales of this landmark Chicago nightclub.
A two-hour blend of live music, dancing and storytelling, it is superbly directed by Teatro Vista ensemble member Cheryl Lynn Bruce and inspired by true stories of Cuban, Puerto Rican and Colombian immigrants who found refuge in the nightclub. What makes this stage experience even more special is that playwright Delgado leads the eight-member cast portraying as a mystical nightclub singer, who leads the introduction of the stories and vibrant songs performed live onstage each night by Colombian-American musician Roberto Carpacho Marin and his band of 30 years, Carpacho y Su Super Combo.
Delgado said she’s been impressed with the summer run and how the Owen Theatre space at Goodman Theatre has been transformed into a nightclub landscape, complete with tiny tables for the audience seating on the main floor.
“My journey with ‘La Havana Madrid’ is a dream come true and it has been an absolute joy and honor to share this story with my fellow Chicagoans. I am incredibly grateful to keep the love alive this summer,” Delgado said.
“It is especially sweet to come home to Goodman Theatre, where I wrote ‘La Havana Madrid’ as part of the Playwrights Unit in the 2015-2016 Season. The Owen Theatre is transformed into the La Havana Madrid nightclub, night after night.”
In addition to Delgado, the eight-member cast also includes Teatro Vista ensemble members Tommy Rivera-Vega and Marvin Quijada; and newcomers Mike Oquendo, Donovan Diaz and Krystal Ortiz, who round out the cast as Cuban, Colombian and Puerto Rican patrons, staff and musicians who all met, danced, loved and lost at La Havana Madrid. Original cast members Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel and Phoebe González were unable to continue with the production and so their roles were recast for the Goodman remount. The design team includes Ashley Woods beautiful set, Elsa Hiltner’s radiant costumes and the perfect nightclub atmosphere created by Heather Sparling’s lights and Mikhail Fiksel’s sound paired with Liviu Pasare’s projections and video design and William Carlos Angulo’s choreography.
As explained by Delgado, in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Latinos from Caribbean countries such as Puerto Rico and Cuba settled all along Chicago’s lakefront, from North Avenue to Devon. Although from different countries, it was a shared music which brought them together. African rhythms became the guaguanco, the mambo and the merengue. Once embraced in the United States, these rhythms merged with traditional big band sounds and eventually became known under the all-encompassing term “salsa music.”
During this decade, it was on the North side of Chicago where Latino music nightclubs opened such as Coco Loco on Lincoln Avenue and The Mirror Lounge on North Avenue. But La Havana Madrid on Belmont and Sheffield became the most notable. It was Luis “Witto” Aloma, a Cuban-born player for the Chicago White Sox, who opened the club in the early 1960s to create a place for his Cuban friends to drink coffee and play cards and dominoes. As the entertainment venue received more notoriety, La Havana Madrid grew into a lavish supper club featuring live Cuban musical acts. As the years passed, it changed ownership before it closed in the late 1960s and later became the popular folk club The Quiet Knight.
One of the most moving stories is the cast telling the life story struggles of bandleader Carpacho, as portrayed by actor Marvin Quijada. Originally from Medellin, Colombia, Carpacho has spent his life preserving the tropical rhythms of his country to share with new generations of audiences. From his struggles to secure his legal status to remain in the U.S. to his recognition later in life, including performing at the inaugurations of Mayor Harold Washington and Mayor Richard M. Daley, it is moving to see his life acted out on stage as the “real” Carpacho shares the same stage conducting his orchestra to provide the music accompanying the journey depicted in this show.
Tickets are $30-$50. FYI: 312-443-3800 or GoodmanTheatre.org/LaHavanaMadrid. “La Havana Madrid” is recommended for ages 12 and older.