The Tropicana was the ultimate spectacle in a pre-Vegas world. A Cabaret Guide issued in 1956 described The Tropicana as, "the largest and most beautiful night club in the world...."
Americans once flew from Miami to Havana JUST to catch this show. There was a special Club Tropicana tourist package: Cubana Airlines' Tropicana Special began a round-trip flight that ferried club customers from Miami to the Tropicana and returned them to Florida at 4am the following morning. The plane featured a wet bar stocked with a bevy of cocktail selections, as well as a scaled-down version of Armando Romeu’s orchestra for anyone brave enough to dance in the aisles.
I would have loved arriving in 1956, surrounded by glamorous women in colorful evening gowns, with meticulously coiffed hair, long gloves and handsome men in white dinner jackets! A front row seat might have been impossible back then (even at $4.50 a table), but a glimpse of Marlon Brando in the audience might have been enough of a thrill for one night.
When we arrived last Thursday, 2 hours before showtime to get our front row seat, some tourists were posing out front with a beautiful vintage Cadillac convertible taxi that had dropped them at the door. The radio was blaring a Lady Gaga song, the the girl was wearing a micro mini skirt. So much has changed. Sadly, none of the guests today dress very well. We are all tourists, and the price tag today (about $100 per person including a small glass of sparkling wine and a half bottle of Havana Club) is beyond the reach of almost any Cuban. Besides, they all know the place is for tourists.
I'd say my expectations were modest. A Cuban friend had rolled his eyes the day before when we announced we were headed to the Tropicana on December 30th (December 31st was $250 a head, cash only!). The entrance felt more tarnished and almost tacky, than tasteful, and the food....well, no one goes for the food.
But our table was touching the stage on the left side, and Eason paid our $5 fee so that I could legitimately take photos from the audience. I was pretty hungry and devoured a few of the appetizers they offered at outrageous prices....sad cold cuts and stale bread for $15....but finally the place filled up and the show began.
Wow. I had no idea I would love it so much! I enjoyed watching each subsequent routine, convinced that each dancer had removed an article of clothing below the neck, and transferred it to a spot on her head. What a spectacle indeed! I loved every minute, every costume, every move. It was a riot of color and music and movement that looked about as I expect it looked circa 1956. Dancers nearly fell on our table and we had feet and derrieres right up close and personal for many routines. Nearly 200 dancers in all participate in this show. Sometimes they dance on two separate stages....with the distant dancers resembling tropical birds from my vantage point. I had a ball taking photos and getting creative with my less-than- ideal equipment for the task.
I can't wait to go back and do it all again! If I could, I would definitely fly from Miami to catch this show....but then I would stay longer because Cuba is such an interesting place to visit.
These are just a few of my favorite images....