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REVIEW: “LA HAVANA MADRID” — South Coast Repertory @ San Juan Capistrano

A Contagious Joy in Life in the Midst of Cultural Displacement, Ethnic Violence and Neighborhood Boundaries.


JULY 23, 2023 — SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO


La Havana Madrid, a 1960s Latino nightclub on the corner of Belmont and Sheffield, has been resurrected for three weeks only by South Coast Repertory, partnering up with Mission San Juan Capistrano as part of their regular Outside SCR Season, where you can see theatre outdoors in a 250-year-old historic venue on a beautiful summer evening. No other theatre experience in Southern California offers the perfect combination of world-class theatre under the stars set in such a famous historical landmark.



Columbian-American actress Sandra Delgado wrote and stars in this collection of musical monologues telling the stories of Latin American and Caribbean immigrants to Chicago. The namesake nightclub plays backdrop, a unifying source of comfort in each character’s life.


It’s “about people moving, people crossing borders and the music doing the same thing.” Her touching story, which runs through August 4th, about immigrants finding their place in mid-20th century America through music and community not only captures a transitional moment, time and place, but does so in a manner that resonates with all Americans of all generations. It’s the story of people trying to find their place in the world, people looking for belonging and community



It's impossible not to laugh at the wistful humor that infuses Delgado's exuberant tribute to Chicago's Latino immigrants and the nightclub that served as their cultural hub. Impossible not to applaud its talented ensemble and the honeyed vocals of Delgado, as the club's chanteuse who summons memories and sustains dreams. And impossible to remain still once Roberto "Carpacho" Martin's top-notch quintet begins to play.


Author Delgado leads the ensemble as a mystical cabaret singer whose stirring song calls the characters to divulge their immigrant experiences. Behind her is the La Havana Madrid Band. You start off hearing the pure sounds of the cha-cha and the mambo, the Latin big-band sounds of the 1950s and early 1960s. From there, the band takes you through the 1960s, when Cuban immigrants invented salsa in the United States. In addition to the Latin favorites, the show also includes original songs from composer Cristian Amigo. All of it combines to provide a musical experience that cuts across generations. “It’s really about in what ways do you stay the same and in what ways do you change,” Delgado said.



Ms. Delgado documents the Latinx diaspora in microcosm by focusing her ethnographic survey on a single location — the Havana Madrid club at the corner of Belmont and Sheffield Avenues, in the loft now housing the Milio's Hair Salon. Though operating for barely a decade, in the 1960s, La Havana Madrid was an urban refuge where immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries, united by their common language, congregated to bask nostalgically in the music they remembered.


Here, in that one ersatz nightspot, underscored by salsa, cumbia and cha-cha music, we meet the patrons of La Havana Madrid, a 1960s nightclub at Belmont and Halsted streets, and hear their stories. The first is told by 13-year-old Cuban refugee Maria (an effervescent Maria Jimena Gastelum), sent to the U.S. with her brothers as part of Operation Pedro Pan, which relocated children to shield them from communist indoctrination. Her coming-of-age tale begins with a sense of adventure and ends on a bittersweet note.



The action unfolds seamlessly under director Cheryl Lynn Bruce. Bruce, like Delgado, has a keen sense of the immigrant narrative and how it is shared across time. Among the most gripping stories is that of Myrna (Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel in an emotional, enigmatic performance), the hair stylist turned beauty contestant who gets caught in the 1966 Humboldt Park riots, chillingly depicted in choreographer Jonny Martinez’ fierce tango. Here, Myrna learns a hard truth about her adopted city. "Chicago is called a city of neighborhoods," she says. "What it means is you stay on your side and I'll stay on mine."


Then, in budding Puerto Rican photographer Carlos (a passionate, self-aware Luis Herrera), we witness the evolution of an activist. Mr. Herrera’s character is quite compelling as he describes the cultural displacement, ethnic violence and neighborhood boundaries. A love story also comes courtesy of Henry and Maruja (endearingly played by Eduardo Enrikez and Marlene Martinez), Colombian newlyweds who marry over the phone.



Tony (Roberto Antonio Martin), the enterprising radio talk show host who takes over Havana Madrid, epitomizes the self-made man. For Tony, music is a balm — just as it is for musician Carpacho (played by the irresistibly indefatigable Tristan Turner). But Mr. Martin’s well-crafted performance also makes apparent the pain bigotry inflicts and the wariness it instills, even for the most successful immigrants.


Tying the lake to the nightclub is a strong point in Delgado’s book, and it’s carried out well by scenic designer Efren Delgadillo and costume designer Carolyn Mazuca. Cheryl Lynn Bruce’s direction has characters using the space wonderfully. Actors hit their notes with humor, dance and spanglish sing-song, along with a pervasive explosion of energy and magic.


And the music! Between Delgado’s singing and the dancing that punctuates every vignette, there is an endless life coursing through ‘La Havana Madrid,’ a contagious joy at life and a refusal to accept the status quo. These are quietly revolutionary works, ultimately — works of art that rebuke political correctness, rebuke cultural leveling, rebuke the forces of bigotry that always threaten to take hold in diverse areas.


The design and creative team include Cheryl Lynn Bruce, director; Roberto Martin, music director; Efren Delgadillo, set design; Carolyn Mazuca, costume design; Lonnie Alcaraz, lighting design; Jeff Polunas, sound design; Cristian Amigo, composer; Jonny Martinez, choreographer; Joanne DeNaut, CSA, casting director. Maisie Chan is the production manager, Kathryn Davies is the production stage manager, and Natalie Figaredo is the assistant stage manager. Mechelle Lawrence-Adams, Executive Director of Mission San Juan Capistrano.


Featuring: Sandra Delgado, who plays the title role of La Havana Madrid, the nightclub’s singer/guide, leads a cast that includes Eduardo Enrikez (Henry), Maria Jimena Gastelum (Maria), Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel (Myrna), Luis Herrera (Carlos), Marlene Martinez (Maruja), Roberto Antonio Martin (Tony) and Tristan Turner (Carpacho). Accompanying the actors is a five-piece band featuring Roberto Martin (bass), Carol Macpherson (trombone), Carlos Ordiano (keyboard) and percussionists Alfredo Ortiz and Nestor Gonzales.


La Havana Madrid runs from July 15-Aug. 4 and all performances begin at 7:30 p.m. First regular performance: July 21st. Running time: Approximately 2 hours with one 10-minute intermission. Mission San Juan Capistrano is located at 26801 Old Mission Road in San Juan Capistrano.


SCR is offering tables for sale that put theatregoers right next to the stage. The four-person tables are $500 each and are sold as a table. No individual places will be sold. Each table comes with light refreshments. Reserved seats range from $35 to $50 and once again, lawn seating is available for $20 to $35.Single tickets may be purchased either online at www.scr.org or by phone at (714) 708-5555. More information is available at scr.org.




Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report





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