Illustration: Mayo Bous
Illustration: Mayo Bous

An open-air Eden: Tropicana (II)

10 minutos / Julio Cid

07.02.2020 / Articles

There are many stories about the last night of the year 58 in Havana. Stories about civil and military power circles, big businessmen and settlers, gangsters, lovers abandoned on the Island or sent to the United States to wait for the new year, airports and customs, piers, ports, yachts, airplanes, planes ... The famous cabaret Tropicana did not escape it.

That night the place was as overshadowed. A strange atmosphere had taken over the catwalks, the vegetation, the costumes of brightness and colors, the crystals and the iron structures, arches and gardens. The whole complex suffered from a rare penumbra, despite the electric luminaries that swarmed around every corner of the most beautiful cabaret in the world.

First, he entered, almost secretly, a high-ranking military man and met privately with Ardura, the second in command of the emporium headed by Martin Fox. As soon as the military left, Ardura locked his office and disappeared. Then lights and sounds of airplane engines flew across the sky to the astonishment of the nightclub employees and artists. Finally, a murmur ran from table to table. Its occupants - most of them - got up scared and left the place in stampede, trying to appear sanity without much success.

The next day, news of Fulgencio Batista's escape broke out across the Island. Cuban flags and the July 26 Movement rose in the arms of those celebrating the overthrow of a tropical dictator who had been harassed by guerrilla warfare in the mountains and the actions of the war in the cities. The rebels - with their bushy beards, their long hair and their necklaces of seeds of Santa Juana - came to light and enchanted Havana and the world.

Ardura disappeared that morning to Florida in a plane he was flying. The few witnesses to the escape say that he took with him large packages full of money.

Rodney continued making his great productions, difficult as they were. It was known that there would be a shortage of resources for the variette, and not only in fabrics: in tights, shoes, makeup ... in everything. The casino, which financed the shows at the time, no longer contributed a cent.

Rodney continuó haciendo sus grandes producciones, por difíciles que fueran. Se sabía que habría escasez de recursos para la variette, y no solo en telas: en mallas, zapatos, maquillaje… en todo. El casino, que financió los shows en su momento, ya no aportaba ni un céntimo.

For his part, Rodney emigrated in 1960. He was replaced by Armando Suez, who followed the canons that established the so-called "show magician" to the letter. Martin Fox also left. But Tropicana continued with its great shows although European tourism declined, the American disappeared, foreign figures stopped arriving on the Island and many Cuban artists left for other countries.

Armando Romeu remained at the head of the orchestra, something decisive for choreographers and artistic directors to apprehend the seal of their predecessors. In this new stage, Romeu was as collaborative, creator and experimenter of sonorities and effects to enhance choreography and vocal interpretations as he had been in the Rodney era. 

There have also been many great magazines in this third period of the cabaret. The most remembered of them is, probably, Los romanos eran así, under the direction of Joaquín M. Condall, which premiered in 1972. With excellent sketches written by Enrique Núñez Rodríguez, this great production featured the performances of Carlos Moctezuma and Regla Becerra, among others. Stellar moments of that great show were commanded by the Bejucal Drums, an act of trained lions and brilliant acrobatics numbers. Another well-remembered production was Buenos días INIT, released in 1963 under the direction of Joaquín Riviera. It was, perhaps, the first great production that made it clear that the path taken by Rodney could be continued.

También han sido muchas las grandes revistas de este tercer periodo del cabaret. La más recordada de ellas es, probablemente, Los romanos eran así, bajo la dirección de Joaquín M. Condall, que se estrenó en 1972. Con excelentes sketches escritos por Enrique Núñez Rodríguez, esta gran producción contó con las actuaciones de Carlos Moctezuma y Regla Becerra, entre otros. Momentos estelares de ese gran espectáculo estuvieron comandados por los Tambores de Bejucal, un acto de leones amaestrados y brillantes números de acrobacia. Otra muy recordada producción fue Buenos días INIT, estrenada en 1963 bajo la dirección de Joaquín Riviera. Fue, tal vez, la primera gran producción que dejó claro que el camino emprendido por Rodney podía continuarse. 

They also remain in theAlmanaque, also directed by Joaquín M. Condall; Brindis por Tropicana,, under the aegis of Amaury Pérez García; as Tropicana canta y baila para usted y Si me miras y me besas, both with choreography by Santiago Alfonso and directed by Fernando Valdés.

If we continue talking about great successes, you can not miss Carnaval de Lecuona y La Gloria eres tú, by Santiago Alfonso y Tomás Morales, who also signed Tambores en concierto, an overview of the main rhythms of Cuban music.

The choreographers and artistic directors who in this third period of Tropicana remained continuously at the head of the shows and contributed more to them have been - without a doubt - Guanari Amoedo and the aforementioned Tomás Morales and Santiago Alfonso.

There are some memorable paintings in those great productions such as the ball game with dancers on the track in the role of peloteras and the sports narrator Rubén Rodríguez describing most of the nights live the confrontation, and theChangó o el Sun Sun Bambaé, two impressive dances of Afro-Cuban folklore. Today, the charming Damsel of Lecuona, always performed by a male vocal soloist and the figures with lamps illuminated as a headdress, is always kept in the shows; as well as that spectacular number that pays tribute to Congo Pantera, Sergio Orta's great show of the early 50s with the dancer that is chased through the jungle and that, in this version, is thrown into the void from the high walkways and falls into the arms of a group of dancers, in an act in which the acrobatics merges with the dance and the spectator experiences the fascination caused by the risky and the beautiful in a masterful fusion.

Also in this period of Tropicana have performed international figures such as the Spanish vedette Norma Duval, the Puerto Rican singer Cheo Feliciano and the Mexican rock singer Alejandra Guzmán, just to mention three. From the 60's the Mambí Hall, a Sunday weekend meeting between dancers worked in the old parking lot of the cabaret, which was undoubtedly a real litmus test for Cuban popular music orchestras.

There was also the High Cuisine School, and there were also workshops on specialties related to the entertainment world, such as Spanish, Afro-Cuban and salon dances and makeup courses.

At that stage, the nightclub has received several national and international awards and recognitions. The American Academy of Restaurant Industry awarded him, in 1992, the Best of the Five Stars Diamond Award that accredits him as the best cabaret in Latin America. The North American ABC and CNN consortiums selected their locations to broadcast live the end of the 20th century worldwide, while in 2002 it was officially declared a National Monument.

Tropicana is a place for spell and legends. Who knows if, on any of the nights of this Eden under the stars, when everyone has already left and is left alone in that emporium of vegetation, crystals, and irons, the night watchmen have starred in more than one. Maybe we could hear stories about how some of them have had visions that wake them up abruptly.

Perhaps someone, during a tour, has seen the image of a blond man who conducts an orchestra at the top of the catwalks, and the security guard recognizes it because he has seen his photo at Rodney Café. He calls and asks: "Are you, Armando Romeu?" But he does not respond, continues to conduct an orchestra that does not exist until it disappears. Another has likely seen a sumptuous car of the 50s arrive, without a driver or sounds from which, despite this, a stranger looks somewhat sullen, although very well dressed, who walks with great size and presence lord to the old house of Villa Mina and has bristled from head to toe when he hears a mysterious voice that whispers in his ear that this is Martin Fox. Perhaps another could have seen, at dawn, almost at dawn, a mulatto Eared that goes to the halls, he has stopped and has woken up at the moment when the young man says: "Do not worry. I practically live here. I am Tomás Morales. "And, finally, someone who has stayed the night in Arcos de Cristal has spotted, between the gloom, a mulatto entered years with dark glasses. A man who constantly smokes with the fingers marked by some disease that could be leprosy, sports a gold watch, lies nostalgically in his chair and intones a song very much Tropicana, diosa de amor—, , smiles and a tear runs down a cheek en mi corazón hay un amor y es para ti…When the guard thinks so, that this is Rodney, he wakes up startled.

Después de todo Armando Romeu, Martín Fox, Tomás Morales y Rodney están entre los que erigieron, en circunstancias diversas, aquel paraíso a la luz de la luna y las estrellas de la noche habanera. Y allí están ellos y muchos más, como una memoria impregnada en el aire, la brisa y el rocío que reinan, siempre, en ese inigualable edén que Cuba y el mundo conocen como Tropicana.

Julio Cid

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