Tropicana A splendor of stars
By María Elena Balán Saínz Photos: Vladimir Molina and Jorge Pérez
If you visit Cuba, don't miss the opportunity to see Havana's Tropicana cabaret, one of the world's most famous night club shows. The glamor and flair of this cabaret has evolved continuously thought its 65 years of existence.
The Tropicana show is so popular that about a half million visitors enjoy it annually. The grace of its dancers and the beautiful Cuban music are outstanding features of this show along with the unique stage where real palm trees are incorporated in its design. Reservations for the show can be made thought most hotels in Havana.
The club opened on December 31, 1939 and was originally called the Beau Site. Twelve months later, the name was changed to the Tropicana in reference to a popular song. The number of nightly visitors now greatly exceeds the original 300 who were on hand on the opening night.
Six and half decades after its opening, the Tropicana has become an entertainment complex which offers the best of Cuban music, cocktails and food.
At the Tropicana, visitors can find the Salón Bajo las Estrellas, or the "Ballroom Under the Stars" a fanatic place where the landscaping is part of the big musical show. Daily audiences of about 1000 people enjoy Afro-Cuban dancing, the music of good local and international singers, and Cuban cigars and rum.
More than 200 dancers perform on Tropicana's stages, dressed in extravagant costumes and dancing with the purest and most genuine Cuban flavor.
The Tropicana also has the Los Jardines Restaurant and the bohemian Cafe Rodney which pays tribute to Rodrigo Neyra. Known simply as "Rodney the Magician," he ran the show in his own distinct style many years ago, contributing to the splendor and fame of this cabaret.
The Arcos de Cristal or "Crystal Arch" Ballroom is another choice that the Tropicana offers to its visitors. Visitors can dance to a live orchestra and enjoy Cuban cocktails and delicious food in this magical place.
Well-known singers such as Nat King Cole, Josephine Baker, Xavier Cugat, Carmen Miranda, Pedro Vargas, Libertad Lamarque, Celia Cruz, Rita Montaner and Bola de Nieve are some of the stars who have performed at this cabaret.
The Tropicana, known for the beauty of its facilities, the talent of its dancers and the brilliance of its shows, was awarded the National Monument distinction in 2002 from the National Council of Monuments.
How did Tropicana emerge? The Tropicana cabaret began as a dream during the 1930's when the world was suffering from the Great Depression. An Italian businessman named Victor Correa with extensive experience in show business had the idea of turning the Villa Mina farm, then located in the suburban district of Marianao, into an artistic and musical entertainment center.
Correa wanted to preserve the thick grove of palm trees as one of the main attractions, The palm trees, Cuba's national tree, form a natural outdoor stage benefiting from the country's tropical climate.
The cabaret was like an exotic tropical version of the Parisian Folies Bergere inserted into the rustic environment of a Havana farm. Few businessman at that time would gamble on Correa's idea of turning a farm into a nightclub.
Since then, the fame and popularity it has gained has proven that it was obviously a great business and artistic idea.
In the late 1940's, the nightclub was acquired by Martin Fox, the known as one of the biggest gambling czars. Fox decided to remodel and enlarger the cabaret and he was able to do so without changing the under-the-trees stage.
An interesting featured of the renovation involved the stage - it could be mechanically lowered to ground level at the end of th performance to allow the audience to dance to the music of the orchestra.
Architect Max Borges Jr., who was in charge of the renovation of the Tropicana, thought that the prestigious Cuban sculptor, Rita Longa, could make a figure to decorate the pond at the entrance of the cabaret. Thought it may seem paradoxical, Longa chose to sculpt a graceful ballet dancer instead of a cabaret dancer in an extravagant costume.
On December 31, 1949, a sculpture name "Ballerina" was place at the main entrance of the already famous cabaret.
The Ballerina sculpture has been Tropicana's hostess for 56 years and is a new visitor's first hint that the spirit of dance has no bounds.
La Fuente de las Ninfas, or "the Fountain of the Nynphs" was created by the artist Aldo Gamba and is also past of the sculpture collection at the Tropicana.
The Tropicana cabaret is currently one of the largest and most famous night clubs both in Cuba and the world. Also a favourite of businessmen and cigar aficionados, the Tropicana hosts an event for the International Habano Cigar Festival each year in Havana.
With the same name and similar shows, Tropicana has been re-created in the city of Matanzas, near Varadero as well as in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba.
There are also sister nightclubs in the Canary Islands and Santiago de Chile where Cuban artists from the original Tropicana perform and increase the worldwide popularity of the cabaret show.