Monday, July 10, 2017

Cuba's Legendary Tropicana Cabaret

If you consider Las Vegas as the ultimate in over-the-top, showgirl performances, think again. The inspiration for Las Vegas shows and all its colorful, feathered glamor was Cuba, specifically the legendary Tropicana Cabaret. Opened in 1939 on the grounds of a suburban Havana mansion, it evolved into the most spectacular open air cabaret ever seen.

Music icons like Nat "King" Cole, Paul Robeson, Omara Portuondo, Carmen Miranda and of course, Celia Cruz, graced the stage and celebrities filled the seats. I  heard about the history of the Tropicana, including the darkers aspects like the mobsters that ran it and the racism that kept dark-skinned black performers off the stage unless they were superstars like Nat "King" Cole. I knew immediately that I had to see it in person. Walking into the huge outdoor space, I was handed a red chrysanthemum and men were given cigars. Swaying palms, stages at every angle and blinking lights were all I could make out in the dim, 10pm light.

When the  show started and the lights blared and the music boomed, I can't even explain to you all that I saw. To my left, to my right, above my head, and up in the air, there was someone singing, dancing and prancing in outrageously scanty costumes. Thanks goodness I took photos (for a $5 fee that was well worth it) because it was truly a sensory overload.  There were musical stories told through each segment and I understood why cabaret shows are such a popular part of Cuban culture. Tropicana is the most famous but most hotels and even small rural towns host cabaret shows. Although some might consider them tourist traps, I was thrilled to witness a part of Cuban history.


A Cuban In London said...

I must admit that I never really liked Tropicana. I went once when I was 17 as part of my end-of-the-year college (high school) graduation. I find all the glam a bit too OTT. Good photos! :-) And I'm happy you had a good time.

Greetings from London.

Fly Girl said...

Thanks Cubano, I understand. A lot of locals think its just a tourist trap and it is quite over the top. But I think it's a wonderful display of Cuban musical talent and love that they hire so many local singers and dancers. I'll always have a good time wherever there's Music!