Cuba Culture

Cuba in Las Vegas - Havana Night Club and Tropical Passions are a top draws in Vegas

Posted January 02, 2005 by publisher in Cuba Culture.


For the first time in at least 45 years, two high-profile Cuban acts are playing the Las Vegas Strip as the old year ends and the new one begins.

The New Year will bring something not seen on the stages of Las Vegas for at least 45 years—two Cuban acts, each with 50 musicians, dancers and others, presenting shows only blocks apart.

A local newspaper trumpeted the news by noting, “Suddenly, Las Vegas is the Cuban Entertainment Capital of the World.’‘

Tropical Passions, a show with a cast of mostly Miami expats, is based on Havana’s nightlife in the 1950s and features the Grammy-nominated Tropicana All Stars. It’s at the Las Vegas Hilton through Sunday. Havana Night Club: The Show recently made headlines when all 50 cast members sought asylum. It’s at the Stardust until Jan. 11. Ticket sales for both are brisk.

‘‘It’s long overdue,’’ said Otto Merida, executive director of the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce, who said he has never seen a pair of Cuban acts of this size and scope in his 30 years in Las Vegas.

The Cuban-born Merida, who oversees the third-largest Hispanic chamber in the Southwest with 1,200 members, said that Hispanic visitors from other states call him asking about Latin acts.

‘I’ve always had to tell them, `No, you have to come [during] Cinco de Mayo’ ‘’—one of the few days of the year when big-name acts such as Julio Iglesias regularly play Las Vegas.

As for Cuban acts, Tony Alamo, senior vice president of Mandalay Resort Group, said he recalls a group with ‘‘lots of dancers and good-looking women’’ that played Las Vegas in the ‘60s shortly after he arrived in the United States from Cuba.

‘‘But I have never seen two Cuban shows at once here,’’ Alamo said.

Gonzalo de Barona, vice president of casino marketing for the Las Vegas Hilton, said his hotel will be targeting Hispanic audiences. According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, 8 percent of the 35 million visitors to Las Vegas in 2003 were Hispanic.

De Barona said presenting a show like Tropical Passions, with its Grammy-nominated musicians and other top-notch talent is “branding your property as somebody that has cultural knowledge—and that sends a strong message.’‘

Having the two shows in town has created a mano a mano of sorts, as members of each question the other’s version of Cuba on stage.

‘‘It’s a cliche,’’ said Nicole Durr, the producer of Havana Night Club, referring to Tropical Passions, which is based on pre-Castro Havana.

‘‘This is the best of Cuba,’’ Recaredo Gutierrez, producer of Tropical Passions responded, as dancers glided across the stage to iconic Cuban singer Beny More’s Santa Isabel de las Lajas. ‘‘This is what we were and are no longer—but one day could be,’’ he said.

Said Tropical Passions singer Ivette Viņa: “I think it’s important to educate people about what was happening in Cuba in the ‘50s. You want to make sure when people leave the theater, they have a positive image of Cuba.’‘

(Viņa, by the way, called Havana Night Club a cliche, with focus on drawing an arc from the time slaves were brought from Africa to Cuba to Havana’s reggaeton of today.)

But cast members from both acts said the future looks bright for similar shows on the sea of neon known as “The Strip.’‘

Durr said she believes from seeing the responses of audiences “that the time has come for Las Vegas to have Latin, and Cuban acts.’‘

For the casts of both shows, being on stage in Las Vegas has been a dream come true. Yadira Padron, a 20-year-old former Tropicana dancer who came to the United States from Havana six months ago, said she was overcome with emotion on seeing Las Vegas for the first time.

‘‘I still haven’t slept,’’ she said.

Member Comments

On January 02, 2005, Jesus wrote:

I have to emphatically disagree with Mr. Gutierrez when he says “this is what we were and are no longer..” I was in Cuba last year, music old and new is always around you, it is a part of the Cuban soul, but Cuba is a lot more than just music, song and dance, and the best part of it you loose when you leave Cuba. This is not an indictment of those who leave Cuba, just a fact.