The Music of Immigration Scores LA HAVANA MADRID

The Music of Immigration Scores LA HAVANA MADRID

Sandra Delgado, creator of LA HAVANA MADRID, plays the title character in the world premiere. Photo by Joel Maisonet.

Review: LA HAVANA MADRID – Teatro Vista at Steppenwolf

By Jonald Jude Reyes

It’s the music – the rhythm, the beat, and the culture. There’s an essence to music that’s like an accent to a spoken language which makes it unique. The accent cannot be hidden and even when you try to mimic how others deliver, people can tell yours is still different. This music becomes your personal experience – your own beat that you walk to in your everyday life. In LA HAVANA MADRID, we listen to these different songs and learn the music of Latinx immigration.

The cabaret setting within the one-year-old 1700 Steppenwolf space lays the perfect ambiance for LA HAVANA MADRID’s backdrop of a music club. Designed to accommodate a live band with room for a dance floor, Director Cheryl Lynn Bruce uses the space wisely and has actors entering from the outside through the audience. This provides intimacy, and has the audience engaged in full awareness of the entire space. Close to the band area are two screens which project pictures of classic Chicago scenes as stories are shared.

In this docu-play, audiences are transported to 1960s Chicago, where we are up close and personal with immigration stories. For an immigrant, America can be overwhelming, and with each story giving insight on Latinxs finding their way, the La Havana Madrid music club was a place that felt like home. With Sandra Delgado as the lead singer of the Carpacho y Su Super Combo band, the La Havana Madrid club becomes its own character within this play. The talented band sets the tone with mambo, merengue, and eventually salsa, and it is sure to get your feet tapping.

Our first story, presented by 13-year-old orphan Maria (Krystal Ortiz), is a good introduction to this era. Her innocence and excitement about coming to a new country sets an upbeat tone and reminds us how America is portrayed in other countries. Ortiz’s buoyant delivery shows this positive attitude on a new chapter in life, which becomes a motif for the evening. Her story is followed by the couple of Henry and Maruja in 1964. Henry (Tommy Rivera-Vega) brings the audience together into surprising Maruja (Phoebe Gonzalez) by yelling “Happy Anniversary” in Spanish in an inviting interaction. LA HAVANA MADRID is intelligently structured to have the right amount of participation where the audience can stay content to only watch or be involved as part of the play. Rivera-Vega and Gonzalez work well with each other as they tell their love story and how Henry & Maruja made ends meet to keep their relationship strong. Again, it’s the survival within a new country that creates the challenge of trying to fit in, which leads into Carlos’s story. Carlos (Donovan Diaz) brings us into the heat of territories and “social clubs” that were formed to face aggressive Whites. The audience gets a history lesson of Chicago evolution and how groups such as The Young Lords laid ground within Lincoln Park.

The stories that follow in the second half of LA HAVANA MADRID get deeper into the hardship that Latinx immigrants faced. Tony (Mike Oquendo) follows up intermission talking to the audience in a loose, open monologue, like a town hall meeting where he spoke of familiar feelings, and if you were in agreement it was audible. The Latinx-Americans present were nodding and knew exactly what Tony was talking about, having gone thru the difficulty of surviving. “You could get lost in this city,” Oquendo said while looking directly into the audience and you could see so many head nods. This was visually a united community that related heavily to this performance.

The last two stories by Myrna (Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel) and Carpacho (Marvin Quijada) brought us into the riots and confrontations with immigration police. Gonzalez-Cadel brings such a grounded performance and displays a strong shift of a jubilant emotion in a scary situation. Quijada uses the space the most as we get into the thick of the music in a story that is truly based on Roberto “Carpacho” Marin, who is in the band on stage.

Teatro Vista’s LA HAVANA MADRID adds to their company’s continued sharing of experiences from a Latinx perspective. The specific detail of Chicago’s history gives amazing insight to how much has changed in just the past 50 years. The immigration story seems to be a repeated tale of new hope in a new country, but the accent is what makes it unique. The music is what brings these people together and the La Havana Madrid is what inspires them to keep going.

About author

Jonald Jude Reyes

Jonald Jude Reyes is a Writer, Performer & Director in Chicago, IL. His works have been performed in various theaters city-wide, including Stage 773, The Annoyance, and The Second City. In 2016, he was named Best of Stage Director by the Chicago Reader and was selected to the DirectorsLabChicago program. Learn more at