What Happened to Cuban Musicals?

Irina Pino

Broadway Rox at the Mella Theater during the XVI Havana International Theater Festival. Photo: Marcelino Vazquez Hernández/AIN

HAVANA TIMES — While at Havana’s Mella Theater, listening to the marvelous songs from Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair and Mamma Mia during Broadway Rox, a show staged by the US company Entertainment Nederlander Worldwide, the history of Cuban musicals – that priceless legacy of our music-loving culture – came to mind.

I can’t help but feel sad over the disappearance of this tradition, which emerged in the past century and gave rise to many talented artists, in spaces where dance, theater, music and art were taught. Composer Leo Brower was once its musical director. Hector Quintero would take the helm for many years afterwards, staging novel and memorable performances.

A version of Rent performed by Cuban actors was staged at Havana’s Bertolt Brecht Theater not long ago. That musical is not a Cuban piece and doesn’t count, even though people enjoyed it very much.

We must produce works that speak of our reality. At one point, we had Alejandro Garcia Virulo, at the National Performance Arts Ensemble, who staged social satires with first-rate actors such as Carlos Ruiz de la Tejera, Ana Lidia Mendez, Jesus del Valle, Carmita Ruiz and other less renowned thespians. Never again has an art discipline shone as brightly as it did then. One cannot help but miss that entertaining genre, which combines acting, dance and music in a perfect, symbiotic whole.

It’s true Teatro America has staged some musicals, but these haven’t made news and people barely remember them. They have good scripts, knowledgeable directors, interesting stories and solid actors – they should start with a new project, so that this theater discipline can again be explored.

They should go in search of new talent at art schools to impel and bring back Cuban musicals. We no longer even have this kind of theater – it is but a ruin attesting to a recent past.

3 thoughts on “What Happened to Cuban Musicals?

  • Didn’t mean updating of “Cecelia Valdez,” Bob, but rather, Where are the new musicals commenting on TODAY’S Cuba that are as good as “Cecelia Valdez?” I’ve seen some good cabaret pieces, like the one (forget the name) performed at the Teatro ‘Bertold Brecht, in which Don Quixote symbolized a recent Cuban leader, but no grand zarcuela like in epochs past, which compares to “Cecelia…” Finally, take a look at the mid-1960’s version of “Cecelia…” on YouTube, sung by Alina! Then for laughs, see her later version of “Yo soy Cecelia, Cecelia Valdez,” sung in Miami a few years back. which proves that, well, NO, YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN! “You can never stick your foot into the same river!”

  • I saw Cecilia Valdez a few years ago at the Gran Teatro. It does not need updating.

  • Where are this generation’s versions of Gonzalo Roig’s “Cecelia Valdez”?

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