The story doesn’t translate, the costumes are shoddy and the lighting amateurish, but at its core “Havana Night Club” is a lively beast that deserves an influx of cash to reach its full potential. Siegfried and Roy’s import from Cuba is a sensational crowdpleaser that brings together well-executed, intricate choreography, grand singing and infectious rhythms without pandering to the tourist crowd. Its intricacies are captivating, but the audience is asked to forgive a bit too much in the presentation.
Parked at the shabby Stardust showroom, “Havana Night Club” attempts to detail the evolution of the island’s music, tackling in four segments tribal African roots, the influence of Spain, the mambo and rumba, and finally modern day. It excels when the show reflects the title, re-creating the 1940s and ’50s ballrooms when Havana was the dance capital of the world. The band sizzles, too, performing classics by the likes of Benny More; the music is spirited and engrossing, the dancing sultry and captivating.
After becoming the first group of Cuban performers to make it to the U.S. since the post-Sept. 11 crackdown on cultural exchange, show has had a bit of a bumpy run, shifting dates as visa issues arose and performing shows at less than full strength. Forty-three members of the troupe sought asylum in mid-November, the largest mass defection of entertainers from Cuba. Prior to their arrival in Las Vegas in the late summer, Cuba had supported the troupe’s 16 trips to countries such as Japan and Germany, and now they are making plans for a trip to Miami in late spring.
While it attempts to tell a historical tale, you can’t tell the players unless you keep checking the scorecard. Opening dances are set to sumptuous polyrhythms until the jungle gives way to an impressionistic Cirque du Soleil-like duet that’s creepily out of place. Dancers and musicians fare better with the blend of Spanish guitar and African drum, though the lack of a coherent English-lingo narrative leaves it up to the audience to connect the dots. After the nightclubs, show ventures into modern Cuban amalgamations of salsa and rap, the least interesting musical segment of the night. The dancing, on the other hand, is consistently engrossing.
To make its point, “Havana Night Club” needs a clear book that sticks with English and leaves the Spanish to the singers. An improved sound system would better reveal the intricacies and nuances of this music. Troupe’s costumes and the set are starting to look faded — there needs to be a visual vibrancy on par with the music and dancing. Sadly, the room is in need of a good scrubbing as well, which may be limiting the numbers of folks willing to shell out the 70-plus bucks to get in.
Show could benefit, too, from a reduction of numbers in the modern segment. This could be a glorious celebration of Havana’s day in the cultural sun; the talent is there, it just needs to be harvested better.