CAUTION: Show spoilers and extensive Cubanisms ahead! You have been warned.
“A majestic outdoor musical theater show, presenting a beautiful love story through the Cuban culture and nostalgia. A grand orchestra, 25 Broadway dancers, renowned Cuban actors, and Grammy award artists under the stars of Miami, while enjoying an exquisite top of the line gastronomy presentation.”
Now through March 27th
Miami-Dade Fair & Exposition Grounds
While stuck in a typical blink-and-you-miss-it-came-out-of-nowhere South Florida storm on a Friday night, I wondered if the outdoor event I was attending would be canceled. The eleguá clearly had other ideas, and I should have known better. As our group pulled into the parking lot, the sky cleared up, and the rain magically disappeared. Eso!
Once inside, claro que we hit the bar first. I never expect much of large event cocktails, but I actually enjoyed their mojito. Después we walked around to check out the different exhibition booths and selfie stations (porque… cuándo Pascua no cae en Diciembre?). Most guests wandering wore their masks. It did become a little tricky to navigate through those gathered maskless within their party around the bar area. Como a game of Frogger, más o menos, but doable.
A look into the roped-off seating area revealed the tables and chairs had become soaked from the earlier hurricane. Staff attacked each one as fast as they could to dry everything before showtime. Although the event capacity is reported to be somewhere around 300 guests, I was relieved the spacing between tables thankfully felt breezy and open once seated.
The details listed on the event information page warned the dinner show would begin at 8 pm sharp. I’m not sure if there was an official rain delay, but the doors to the venue finally opened by 8:10 pm. I suppose that’s still better than being on Cuban time, IYKWIM. Within seconds of finding our table, our server came by promptly to introduce himself and take drink orders. The preset menu worked in complete sync with the show—more on that in a bit. Logistics seem to be in place as we did not experience any hiccups with the table service. Impressive, given the large number of attendees. I’ve been to many events a third of this size who couldn’t get it together. Se la comieron!
The two-hour show opened with a song and dance ode to Cuban orishas. I am definitely not up to date with the santeria practice and lingo. I did mention the rain stopped upon arrival, remember? So there’s that; siempre que llueve, escampa.
To kick off the culinary tour for the night, una cajita arrived. That was a clear given. Is it even a Cuban party if you don’t start with la cajita? C’mon now! (No, spellcheck, I did not mean to write fajita, coño!). A mini medianoche, a couple of jamón croquetas, and several yuca chips later, I had a good feeling about the rest of the night. Maybe the mojitos kicked in? While Latin Grammy winner Amaury Gutierrez powerfully belted Yo Sé Que Es Mentira, a cast aluminum pot arrived for each guest. In it, a very nice version of arroz con pollo and maduros. Oye, if you follow this blog, you already know I can be tremenda criticona. Pero listen, it’s not Bernstein’s La Trova version, but it worked great for this large-format dinner theater. Even the platanitos were perfectly ripe and hot.
Con la barriga llena, y el corazón contento, I sat back and chair-danced through the rest of the show. With colorful costumes and against a barrio backdrop, the talented young cast gave it their all throughout the performances and provided nostalgia topped with all the añoranza feels.
Singer Luis Bofill sang a medley of old Cuban classics like El Bodeguero, Cachita, Homenaje a Benny Moré, and Castellano Que Bueno Baila Usted. As if that wasn’t already sweet enough, a plate featuring a trio of desserts appeared. Un merenguito, arroz con leche, and my favorite bite…the guayaba masa real. Now I was truly jamming. Another highlight for me was Grethel Ortiz‘s performance. I’d recently enjoyed her appearance on Que Pasa U.S.A.‘s Miami revival several years ago, and she once again rocked that stage.
What followed next quickly became the best part of the show. Not just speaking of the effort it took to get this done right on cue, but a fun and clever production detail where we all joined the performers too. I knew I “smelled” something familiar and amazing once lead star Jeffry Batista, also part of the Que Pasa U.S.A. ensemble, came back on the stage. Leading with some self-deprecating Cuban jokes we all enjoyed (without, gasp, once becoming insulted), he jumped into a catchy version of Ay Mamá Ines: a song where cafecito reigns. The cast danced to a “Stomp meets Rockettes type” of choreography, armed with a spoon and coffee mug, while Batista held an oversized red cafetera. Se formó. The smell I mentioned? Freshly poured cafecitos for all, served by the timely staff, con espumita y todo. Azucar! How in the world did they simultaneously serve that many diners piping hot Bustelo? The audience was then left alone to enjoy that unmistakable aroma and taste of our Cuban crack. Did it matter that it was dangerously close to my bedtime? No importa. The caffeine was worth it.
Minutes later, two-time Latin Grammy winner Albita joined in for the grand finale segment by first appropriately honoring nuestra reina, Celia Cruz, in a slow and emotional Aunque me cueste la vida. Tears. Picking up the pace, she went right into her Qué manera de quererte song, and signaled the audience to join in dancing. Pero to “please continue wearing masks.” Todos se botaron pa’l solar. Myself included. The dancers came off the stage to dance with the guests to La Jardinera while a comparsa erupted onstage with faroles también! Side note: I’m pretty sure I danced before I could walk during my very early days in La Habana. I can tell you with certainty that besides the cafecito I used to enjoy in my pomo de leche as a baby, nothing makes me feel more Cuban than listening to the deeply rooted Afro-Cuban rhythms. By the time Conga de Los Dandys played, I was a happy sweaty dancing mess. Needless to say, I ended the night on my feet, clapping, feeling joyful, and reconnected to my roots.
There is supposed to be a love storyline somewhere in the show, but the energetic nonstop action overshadowed it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just an observation. For a beautiful night under the stars, with plenty of inside jokes for the old school Cubans, los Marielitos, the balseros, the “recién llegados,” and their loved ones, check out this show while you can. Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente. Así que dale, embúllate. Pack some tissues, and wear your dancing shoes. No patas sucias allowed, please. Aquí el relajo es con orden y con máscaras. It will be unforgettable—Te lo prometo.
For tickets and more detailed information, please visit the CUBA UNDER THE STARS WEBSITE.