Theater Review: LA HAVANA MADRID (South Coast Rep at Mission San Juan Capistrano)

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by Michael M. Landman-Karny on August 1, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


As I stepped into the beautiful grounds of the San Juan Capistrano mission for La Havana Madrid, I was filled with anticipation and curiosity about the promised time travel through the vibrant and tumultuous history of Chicago’s Latino community.

Eduardo Enrikez and Marlene Martinez

Tristan Turner

La Havana Madrid is an enchanting and evocative production that effortlessly weaves together history, music, and storytelling. The play revolves around a real-life former nightclub in Chicago’s West Lakeview neighborhood, bearing the same name, and sets the stage for a deeply introspective exploration of the Caribbean Latino experience during the 1960s and ’70s.

Luis Herrera

The narrative unfolds through a series of interconnected monologues, music performances, and dance numbers. The remarkable ensemble cast delivers captivating performances, each portraying different characters who frequented the club during its heyday. Their diverse backgrounds and personal stories collectively provide an intimate glimpse into the struggles, triumphs, dreams, and heartaches of immigrants from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Colombia.

Sandra Delgado

Playwright Sandra Delgado also plays the titular role of as a singer and emcee and casts a mystical spell over the proceedings. Other notable members of the cast include Maria Jimena Gastelum convincingly plays a bubbly, dreamy-eyed teen Maria. Eduardo Enrikez and Marlene Martinez play the adorable newlyweds Henry and Maruja.  The remarkable Cruz Gondalez-Cadel breaks your heart as pageant queen Myrna, and sexy Tristan Turner steams up the stage as the very sexy musician Carpacho. The choreography by Jonny Martinez is electric, featuring almost every Latino dance step, from cha-cha-cha to merengue to salsa.

Bandleader Roberto "Carpacho" Marin

The music is a character in itself, serving as a cultural bridge between the past and the present. The live band, skillfully playing a fusion of Latin rhythms and American jazz, infused the performance with an electrifying energy. From soulful boleros to the infectious salsa beats, the music brought a unique cadence to the play, captivating the audience and eliciting spontaneous applause. The top notch 5-piece band is made up of Nestor Gonzalez (percussion), Jorge Ordiano (percussion), Carlos Ordiano (keyboard), bandleader Roberto “Carpacho” Marin (bass) and the amazing Carol Macpherson (trombone).

 The cast of South Coast Repertory's 2023 production of LA HAVANA

Lighting designer Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz successfully lit the outdoor show which starts before sunset and ends at night.  Sound by Jeff Polunas was well made, allowing the audience to hear every word despite background outdoor noise. Efren Delgadillo Jr’s scenic design combined a nice proscenium frame with subtle projections. Carolyn Mazuca’s costumes were period appropriate without venturing into “Zoot Suit” cartoon territory.

Luis Herrera, Sandra Delgado and Roberto Antonio Martin

Marlene Martinez and Eduardo Enrikez

Beyond its entertainment value, La Havana Madrid powerfully addresses themes of identity, belonging, and cultural preservation. The play delves into the complexities of assimilation, gentrification, the struggle to maintain foreign traditions in the US, and the indomitable spirit that arises from a shared sense of community. My only quibble is the ratio of monologues to the music; we wanted more dancing and singing by the talented cast.

Maria Jimena Gastelum

Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel and Roberto Antonio Martin

La Havana Madrid is a triumph of storytelling and an ode to the resilience of the Caribbean-Latin community. This richly layered play transcends the boundaries of time, drawing the audience into the heart and soul of a bygone era while also reflecting on the contemporary challenges faced by marginalized communities. It leaves the audience with a profound sense of understanding, appreciation, and a desire to learn more about the untold stories that shape our collective history.

Sandra Delgado

photos by Paul Lester/SCR

La Havana Madrid
South Coast Repertory’s Outside SCR
Mission San Juan Capistrano
Tues-Sun at 7:30
ends on August 4, 2023
for tickets ($20-$50, with tables offered for $500), call 714.708.5555 or visit SCR

Roberto Antonio Martin

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