“WE MADE IT TO CHICAGO. STOP.”
The Colombian, Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrant experience plays out in the Teatro Vista/Collaboraction revival of “La Havana Madrid,” an arresting musical anthology of true stories framed from within the famous 1960s Caribbean Latino nightclub playing at The Den Theatre’s Heath Mainstage. Written by Sandra Delgado, whose electrifying performance is at the heart of the story, the Cheryl Lynn Bruce-directed “La Havana Madrid” returns to the stage in Chicago after sold-out runs at Steppenwolf and Goodman theatres in 2017. The new home, a shimmering, chandeliered house with state-of-the-art projections and the Carpacho Y Su Súper Combo headed by one of the story’s characters, Roberto “Carpacho” Marin, all combine to deliver one of the most unique and uplifting theatrical experiences you will see on stage in Chicago.
Delgado’s richly rendered stories evolved from her own experiences growing up in the West Lakeview neighborhood and through painstaking research into the origins of the Caribbean Latinx music scene and community in Chicago. The real La Havana Madrid was conceived as a Cuban Men’s Club in the 1950s and expanded by owner Luis “Witto” Alomá. In the musical intrepretation, those who frequent the club and inhabit Delgado’s lush storytelling—including her parents Henry (Tommy Rivera-Vega) and Maruja (Alix Rhode)—found the Club both a safe zone and a home for those who struggled to forge a new life in America.
When Maria (Ayssette Muñoz) arrived on December 23, 1961, she sent a telegram to her parents that began: “WE MADE IT TO CHICAGO. STOP.” With a language barrier, limited belongings and a little brother, she landed in an orphanage and eventually with an ill-matched foster family in Evanston and classes at Queen of All Saints. The music and a love of life at La Havana Madrid captivated Maria as she struggled to cope with the changes in her new life and make lasting connections. The waves of the lake remind her of her homeland sea and parents there. A new foster mother and the music of The Beatles help to fill the transitional void.
Others stories include Henry and Muraja, whose tender 1964 meeting and evolving love story included Sunday car rides and marriage by church to church proxy; the Puerto Rican baseball player Carlos (Victor Musoni), who was lost in school but found as a member of the Continental Social Club, as well as through a photography career documenting the “Urban Removal” from the neighborhood; and Tony (Mike Oquendo), the eventual host of “Tony’s Latin A Go Go” radio show—and one-time owner of La Havana Madrid—who served his new country despite the ethnic hostility and racial oppression of the time. “I lost my soul in the U. S Army,” Tony says, but he found it in music that “is love. No color. No class. Just love.” Myrna (Ilse Zacharias) was a cosmetologist crowned queen of Chicago’ s first Puerto Rican parade, and then faced the indignation and horror of the June 1966 Humboldt Park Riot that lasted for eight days and changed the cultural tapestry forever.
They all came to La Havana Madrid to feel safe, secure and at home, but none lived a story more personally harrowing than the musician Carpacho (Marvin Quijada), who constantly faced deportation and lived in relative poverty for the opportunity to work and play his music. The joyous culmination of “La Havana Madrid” serves as a testament to the undying sprit of the Caribbean Latino community, their music and vitality of life.
Delgado’s rich urban work brims with confidence, optimism and hope. She sums up the inspirational immigrant spirit of the era as a metaphor for today—a respect for past sacrifices and continuation of the beauty, music and love that shapes our lives. “We are living on these layers,” she says, “pass it on.”