Wherever you might stand politically on this year’s historic thawing of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations, one positive outcome we can probably all agree on is the freshly opened floodgate of cultural exchange.
Case in point: El Tropicana de Cuba will perform its first stateside show in more than three decades at Brickell’s El Tucán nightclub this New Year’s Eve.
Hailed as the world’s most famous cabaret, El Tropicana opened in December 1939 in the Marianao district of Havana, where it operated out of a converted mansion surrounded by the lush, tropical environs of a six-acre suburban estate.
A 1956 issue of Cabaret Quarterly magazine described El Tropicana as “the largest and most beautiful nightclub in the world,” with shows featuring a chorus line 50 strong and dancers performing on catwalks among the trees.
The legendary showgirls, dubbed Las Diosas de Carne (or Goddesses of the Flesh), were internationally renowned for their exotically voluptuous figures and exuberant cabaret style, often imitated but never duplicated in the clubs of Paris, Las Vegas, and New York.
It follows that El Tropicana would become one of Cuba’s top nightlife attractions in the decades leading up to the revolution. The club drew international high rollers and showcased world-class entertainers the likes of Édith Piaf, Nat King Cole, and Liberace.
Yet for all the luxury and visual splendor of the famed venue and its showgirls, El Tropicana has also established its iconic status on the strength of Cuba’s music and dance heritage. As El Tucán creative director Emilia Menocal says, it’s a heritage intimately familiar to Miami’s Cuban-American and Latino residents, but so much of which is still left to be discovered now that the curtain is being lifted.
“Cuba is considered the most prolific music country in the world, with a repertoire that spans more than 33 genres,” Menocal says. “It’s an exceptional variety that comes through in [El Tropicana’s] shows. No other country in the world can claim such a rich musical history.
“This is a very significant step between U.S.-Cuba relations, as the Tropicana is considered one of the pantheons of Cuban culture and its music,” she adds. “This is a cultural exchange that would have been unthinkable a few years ago but that now represents a new era. This is also very significant for Miami in general, as the new generation of Cuban-Americans are very curious about their heritage, and being able to experience it firsthand is a gift to many.”
As for New Year’s Eve at El Tucán, the Tropicana troupe will kick off a special weekend-long performance offering a preview of its upcoming 2016 world tour shows. Expect a taste of the Tropicana of legend — a veritable feast for the eyes and ears.
“The show will feature some of the Tropicana’s more famous numbers, as well as music from its famous orchestra,” Menocal says. “There will be about 15 dancers and two singers who will re-create some of the more famous numbers exclusively for El Tucán.”
It’s sure to be a special night and, more important, a strong indication of what 2016 has in store for Cuba and America’s newfound relationship.