Alexander Pimentel, Linedy Genao, and Bruno Faria in Havana Music Hall.EXPAND
Alexander Pimentel, Linedy Genao, and Bruno Faria in Havana Music Hall.
Photo by Alberto Romeu

Havana Music Hall's Story of Immigration Gets Personal

Art has many uses, one of them to help us make sense of the world around us. Havana Music Hall, a musical premiering October 19 at the Actor's Playhouse at the Miracle Theater, offers an experience where the creative and the political meet, personal stories are told, loss and desperation revealed.

The show, currently in preview performances, documents and dramatizes the lives of Cuban artists in the face of change and uncertainty. In 1959, Rolando and Ramona Calderon are the Havana Music Hall's best-known musicians when Fidel Castro seizes power, tearing their lives apart by the revolution. Sixty years later, the couple encounters a visitor who forces them to revisit a past they would rather forget.

Richard Kagan, creator and composer for the show, explains he was inspired by his visits to Cuba, where he was moved by testimonies similar to the ones portrayed in the show.

"For many, the journey is a familiar one, and for those to whom it is not, like the children of immigrants who endured a hardship they can't quite convey, this musical will help them look beyond what they think they know," he says.

Elaine Flores and Bruno Faria.EXPAND
Elaine Flores and Bruno Faria.
Photo by Alberto Romeu

To capture the pain and joy of characters' experiences, Kagan, who's a Tony-nominated producer, put his own spin on Cuba's melting pot of music traditions. His songs and lyrics are a vehicle for discourse and emotion. The narrative is also portrayed through dance choreography by Maria Torres, who said the show is a rallying cry for connection.

"In the end, we're all immigrants. We all have to remember where we are from," says Torres, a first-generation American of mixed Caribbean ancestry. "In this political climate we are being forced to think of ourselves in the light of separation, but the truth is that we're all standing on shoulders of people that made sacrifices."

Torres' thoughts are echoed by the whole ensemble, a cast of actors from Los Angeles, New York, and South Florida. Elaine Flores, a Cuban-American actress from Miami Beach, plays Maria, Ramon's sister-in-law who flees with her husband to America despite their desire to remain in Cuba. Flores says she looked to her own family's history of immigration to help articulate what her character went through.

"My grandmother Josefa lived in Miami for 50 years and never learned to speak English because, in her mind, her situation was always temporary," she explains. "She was always talking about her beautiful Cuba and how the government came into her house one day, wrapped up all her things, and said that from that day on, they belonged to the Revolution. They never wanted to leave the land they loved; they simply had to."

Actor and singer Bruno Faria, who plays Maria's husband, said immigration stories are also roots in his own past. The Brazilian-born actor, who was nominated for a Best Actor Carbonell Award for his role as Clyde in the musical Bonnie & Clyde, immigrated with his parents when he was 8 to escape rising crime and a bad economy. "I grew up listening to my dad talk about how he moved to America for me and my brother so we could create a better future," he says.

Havana Music Hall's Story of Immigration Gets PersonalEXPAND
Photo by Alberto Romeu

Sean Griffin, acting consultant for the show, says Havana Music Hall explores every aspect — both positive and negative — of the immigrant experience. Because the actors' performances are so personal, he says, they succeed in drawing the audience in.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for local actors to play their own narratives," he said. "There are many different accounts of immigration. This is a story about forced immigration, a story that must be told."

Havana Music Hall. Friday, October 19, through November 18 at Actor's Playhouse at the Miracle Theater, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; actorsplayhouse.org. Tickets cost $30 to $75 via tickets.actorsplayhouse.org.

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