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A Lost Latino Hotspot Is Reborn on a Chicago Stage


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Sandra Delgado composed and stars in “La Havana Madrid,” about a Chicago nightclub that was a hub for the city’s Latino neighborhood. Credit Credit Joel Maisonet

CHICAGO– At the intersection of Belmont and Sheffield Avenues in the Lakeview community here, a couple of blocks south of Wrigley Field, as soon as stood a Latin dinner club referred to as La Havana Madrid. A social center for Spanish-speaking immigrants– numerous from Cuba, Puerto Rico and Colombia– the club played host to some of the most well-known musical acts of the Latin big-band and salsa eras, along with regional favorites.

” Cheo Feliciano, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Fania All-Stars,” remembered Myrna Salazar, who began going to the club as a teenager in the 1960 s. “The big-name recording artists, they all went to La Havana Madrid.”

The structure that housed the club still stands, butting up against the southbound tracks of the Belmont L station. But you won’t find any trace of La Havana Madrid there; the 2nd floor, which housed the club, is now divided into a punky hairdresser and a women’s physical fitness studio.

” It resembles whatever– gentrification,” Ms. Salazar said. “History is lost. The leadership moves or passes away, and we do not have records of those things.”

Ms. Salazar spent nearly a quarter of a century as a talent scout before retiring in2006 She’s now the executive director and main force behind the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance, which arranges Destinos, a worldwide Latino theater festival that will stage its third edition this fall.

She has likewise become a character in the play “La Havana Madrid,” influenced by the forgotten nightclub, which starts performances at the Den Theater here on May11 The production is reopening two years after the Latino-focused company Teatro Vista initially staged it in an 80- seat area at Steppenwolf Theater Business.

The play is the creation of Sandra Delgado, a Chicago native and longtime stage actor with comprehensive credits at Steppenwolf and other crucial regional theaters. (New york city audiences may have seen her at the Public Theater in 2017 as Jocasta in Luis Alfaro’s “Oedipus El Rey.”)

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Ms. Delgado, photographed at the Den Theater, where the show will be remounted, said she was struck by how little of the club’s history was documented. Credit Joshua Lott for The New York City Times

” La Havana Madrid” started its life as a piece about her parents, who came here from Colombia in the mid-1960 s. Then she heard her dad discuss the Lakeview club where they spent numerous nights out dancing.

” It was this instant minute of like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s not the play. This is the play,'” she said. “What was this location?”

Despite having actually grown up less than a mile west of where the club had actually been, Ms. Delgado said, she had never ever heard of it before then. And in the earliest stages of her research study, she discovered herself annoyed, “going to libraries, going on the internet and finding absolutely nothing.”

If you browse the Chicago Tribune archive for coverage of La Havana Madrid, all you’ll find are categorized ads for cocktail waitresses and one passing mention in a story on cops punishing a numbers video game. Nothing on its programming.

” It really just speaks to the larger problem,” Ms. Delgado stated. “Where do Latinx people”– individuals of Latin American heritage– “fit in the history of this country? Specifically in this city that’s so black and white.”

Additional research study did lead her to discover the city’s first Puerto Rican Day Parade, in 1966: “I read something online, and it states, ‘The queen of the very first Puertorriqueños parade, Myrna Salazar.’ I resemble, Myrna? She was my very first skill representative! Any Latinx star who’s been around because the ’90 s, that’s who represented us.”

Ms. Delgado called Ms. Salazar to ask if she had any details to share about La Havana Madrid. The details flooded out. The club was where Ms. Salazar had her bachelorette party. Its owner was the best man at her wedding event to her now ex-husband.

” Yes,” Ms. Salazar recalled telling her, “I can provide you some history.”

Ms. Salazar put Ms. Delgado in touch with the best man, Tony Quintana, who had been La Havana Madrid’s 2nd owner, in the latter half of the 1960 s. She found more previous clients through social media and other connections.

A number of their stories, including those of Ms. Delgado’s moms and dads, are informed in “La Havana Madrid,” a loose series of vignettes delivered to audience members who sit (and can drink) at cabaret tables. Under the instructions of Cheryl Lynn Bruce, it was named one of Time Out Chicago’s Top 10 plays of 2017.

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Mike Oquendo (left, with Marvin Quijada) represents Tony Quintana, an owner of the club and host of the 1960 s Chicago radio program “Tony’s Latin-A-Go-Go.” Credit Joel Maisonet

The leader of the onstage band, Carpacho y Su Súper Combination, is Roberto “Carpacho” Marin, who has been good friends with Ms. Delgado’s dad dating back to Medellín, Colombia; his story, of pertaining to America on an artist’s visa and choosing to remain, undocumented, when he was used a stable gig, is included, too.

A sneak peek function in the Chicago Sun-Times led to Ms. Delgado getting a Facebook message from the daughter of the club’s original owner, a Cuban baseball player called Luis “Witto” Aloma, who had actually retired in Chicago after betting the White Sox in the early 1950 s.

” She’s telling me how the dinner menu was half-Cuban, half-Spanish, about the beautiful china that had green edging with gold flecks,” Ms. Delgado stated. “We’re already in wedding rehearsal, and all of an abrupt I have these truly concrete information– what the actions appeared like, what the space looked like.”

Carlos Flores, an amateur historian of Puerto Rican Chicago and a long time street professional photographer, supplied a lot of the images that highlight the show in projections.

” La Havana Madrid” sold out its preliminary six-week run at Steppenwolf. The Goodman, discovering itself with an empty studio space when the star Stacy Keach’s disease required the post ponement of his solo program, used to bring the program downtown.

Reconfigured for a space with more than twice as numerous seats, it offered out another month, finding repeat customers and even former Chicagoans returning for a taste of their past.

” Someone my age would come as soon as, and then they would come back with their moms and dads, and after that they would come back with their kids,” Ms. Delgado said.

She hopes “La Havana Madrid” can recapture that energy for another 6 weeks at the Den– then, maybe, beyond.

” I believe specifically about New York, because it’s extremely Puerto Rican, very Colombian,” Ms. Delgado stated. “There’s an extremely strong Caribbean Latinx existence there. I think it would resonate.”

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