Musical Examines 1950s Cuba And The Cuban Immigrant Experience

Oct 10, 2018

A new musical examines the complex politics of Cuba in the 1950s through the lens of one couple's Cuban immigrant experience. 

"Havana Music Hall" follows the story of a husband and wife musical duo, Rolando and Ramona Calderon, who are close to getting a big break and hitting the world stage when Fidel Castro takes control of Cuba in 1959. Havana Music Hall takes the stage at Actors' Playhouse in Coral Gables on Oct. 10 at 8 p.m and will run until Nov. 18.

The musical’s creator and lyricist is Richard Kagan. Cuban American Elaine Flores and Brazilian Bruno Faria star in the musical as Maria and Alberto. Kagan, Flores and Faria joined Sundial to discuss the musical, its themes and perform a live song called, “My Husband, My Wife.”

WLRN: Richard, take us back to Cuba in the 1950s, really where the show starts.

Kagan: It was a time where music was everything and people came from all over the world to hear these great musicians and see these spectaculars. We'd have Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, the Mafia but you also would have Princesses and Kings and it was a very exciting time to visit Cuba.

Where did the idea for the show come?

Kagan: It was "Buena Vista Social Club." When I saw that musical, I just couldn't believe those great musicians who lost everything and were shining shoes but they had this amazing talent. That's why I really wanted to do the musical. So my wife said 'why don't you do your own?' So I called it "Havana Music Hall," I came up with this idea that there was an after hours club but I had no idea [if it was true]. And then I saw a movie called "Chef" and I met Perico Hernandez who played the father of Sofía Veragara. He told me his story. He said 'if you help me tell my story I will help you.' And that's how this all came about.

Elanie, tell me: who is Maria?

Flores: Maria, wife of Alberto. She is a realist. She is supporting her husband's dream. He sings in a band and he wants to play at the Tropicana which is very famous in Cuba and they want to go worldwide. While I support him I'm also a realist and I'm scared about the new change in government. So the song that we're going to sing is about when he comes home all excited about singing at Tropicana and I am excited but also scared.

And Bruno, tell us a little bit about Alberto.

Faria: Alberto is just this laid back, super chill, cool guy. He's the [Hispanic] Dean Martin. He's not stressed about Fidel or whoever. Fidel is just going to be another guy coming in and he's going to be out soon. Don't stress. Everything is going to be okay. We're going to be famous and little does he know the whole world comes crumbling down.

You've been in South Florida long enough and you know the Cuban American story because you've heard of it.

Faria: Not only is it Cuban American I think a lot of South American people in general and Latinos... we in one way or another have lived through this story.

And Elaine with your background you know this story really well.

Flores: I definitely do. My grandparents migrated from Cuba in 1966. They came over to Miami ... and they said 'this is temporary.' There's a line in this show that says that. They never wanted to learn English. The 50 years that they were here in Miami they said we're going back.

How did you both of your experiences help you in these roles? How did it shape the way you approach this?

Flores: I definitely used my family's history, especially my grandmother the way she always talked about the same stories of the government coming in. The government walked into their home one day, taped everything, took inventory and said this no longer belongs to you. The way she would tell me that with tears in her eyes, I have to use that because there are scenes like this in our play. I channel her energy and I understand my family more than ever now.

Richard, what did the Cuban Revolution do to musicians and artists? From your background research, what did they do to the artists and the musicians of Cuba?

Kagan: It was devastating. They had this dream to be what they wanted to be and all of a sudden it was taken away. And I think it is a universal story. We're finding out that ... people from all over the world -- it's resonating with them.

Watch Elaine Flores and Bruno Fria perform the musical number, "My Husband, My Wife."