Havana's Shanghai Theater 1957 - Cuba Night Life Entertainment


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Havana's Shanghai Theater

More on the Shanghai Theater

[REF: SUPPRESSED, Vol. 4, No. 1, February, 1957, PP. 24-25, 64]


By: Richard Skylar

Page 24
A CUBAN has cracked the G-String Barrier.  For $1.25 in Havana's Shanghai Theater you can watch impresario Jose Orozco Garcia rip away the last clinging shred between the stripper an the solarium to show you birthday suit burlesque.  While police look the other way, he serves you a main dish of six totally stripped senoritas and then spices it to your taste with raw film footage salvaged from the stag party censor's wastebasket and a peppery ‘legitimate' play that pales Broadway's bawdiest presentations.


If you're a decent guy from Omaha, showing his best girl the sights of Havana, and you make the mistake of entering the Shanghai, you'll curse Garcia and will want to wring his neck for corrupting the morals of your sweet baby.  If you're a school marm from Vermont and you blunder into this three act scorcher, you'll cry out against the authorities who allowed your eyes to witness this debauchery. If you're an American mother whose boys have splurged a week's salary on plane fare to Havana to see girls bare their all for six bits, you'll ask our State Department what kind of good neighbor policy allows such goings on within 60 minutes of the continental United States.

Even an American burlesque queen would be shocked by the goings off at the Shanghai.  Whenever show business in continental America tangles with sex, decency demands a passion plug between the glistening eyes of the audience and the female flesh on stage.  If it isn't a dim rose spotlight to give you eyestrain instead of a lift, then, it's spangles on flesh tinted tights.  But this show is a strip without a tease.  By contrast to Garcia, Harold Minsky is a temperance crusader.


Yet the show goes on and if you ask a Cuban official about it he'll just shrug his shoulders.  As far as he is concerned the Shanghai doesn't exist because it never advertises.  Its

Page 25
local clientele come on a strictly word-of-mouth recommendation.  And Americans wander in because it's just a shockingly short walk from Havana's most respectable downtown shopping street.  Those who know arrive early for good seats.  Others often find only balcony seating available for the first or 9:30 P.M. show.  The downstairs sellout is real because even a ten peso tip (the full $10.00 in American scratch) won't get you a closeup.  Many wait it out for the 11:30 performance, settling for nothing less than fifth row center.

For those Yankees who haven't the patience to stand in a Loews' lobby for ten minutes the two hour wait is almost beyond endurance.  Their reward is an orchestra vantage point crammed with close to a thousand people in creaking, uncomfortable chairs.  The atmosphere in the Shanghai theater is close, extremely hot, with an air of tense expectation.  For anything other than the promised theatrics the place would be unbearable to an audience.

By the time you're running short on oxygen, the curtain goes up on scene one.  This is the first act of the stage lay.  What's lacking in professional scenery is made up for by the emoting of the actresses.  One's only regret is that high school Spanish never gets around to the vividly picturesque Spanish slang with its double meanings.  At least half the dialogue never saw the inside of a respectable English-Spanish dictionary.  But the most primitive human impulses speak a universal language. The risqué caresses and the real meanings behind the gestures don't need any translator.  When the swarthy leading man spreads his serape on a couch and expertly maneuvers his paramour across the room, it's the same international incident in any land.

[To see a full size photo, right click and VIEW IMAGE]

[Caption] Routines at the Shanghai exceed the limits set by their U.S. counterparts.  Since sex is an international commodity, the language is no barrier.


The cast keeps the acting broad and simple.  Whether this is a gesture to the language barrier separating them from the Americans in the audience, or because they have reached the limits of their talent, doesn't really matter.  Picture a standard Stateside burlesque skit that begins at the point where you'd  normally expect a blushing blackout and you have the play at the Shanghai.

Still, a guise of restraint and pseudo-righteousness during this first seething scene holds the chafing audience in check.  The show follows the oldest rule of exciting drama: a slow build to each finale.  And there are many.  The first act curtain comes down, without warning, right in the middle of a scene.  Almost at once Latin dance rhythms blare through the theater.  The action of the play is forgotten as a six-girl line takes to the stage and jogs across the boards.  The musical revue is under way.


What they do cannot be called choreography.  There are six uncoordinated solo performances going on at the same time and you don't know where to look first.  With none of the subtlety of an American stripper and no expensive specialty
(Continued on page 64)

Page 64
costumes that come apart at the touch of a snapper, these Cuban girls put on a show that beats any tease dancer with her phony frills and fans for excitement.

A little plump one concentrates most of her efforts on struggling out of a tight sheath skirt.  The top-heavy brunette in the middle works almost exclusively from the waist up.  With the outer drapery shed, they get down to essentials.  Here the very poverty of the performers gives the show an unexpected lift.  Because they can't afford the lavish finery of expensive costumed under- things, these girls wear what seem to be their street undies for costumes.


Item by item the flimsy under-garments disappear until the spectators behold a dizzy picture of completely naked women gyrating, bumping and twisting in a way that drops all theatrical pretense and concentrates on thrusting the impulses of nature alone across the Shanghai footlights.  Like a nudist camp gone berserk they throw themselves nearer and nearer to the customers until a frenzied pace is reached.

Then, as if to spare the hearts of the older members of the audience, the curtain closes mercifully on the fast-moving spectacle.  While you're still wiping away the perspiration the curtain rises again and you find yourself back once more to the play that opened the festivities.  Only now it's act two.  Of course everyone has forgotten what happened in the first act but nobody seems to care.  Now there is a new love scene, another conquest and the act is over almost before it begins.


But the piece of resistance is yet to come.  There is that aspect of life that no theater, no matter how risqué, dares to show in the flesh.  The most intimate relationships between men and women in their more unguarded moments simply cannot be displayed at a public theater that openly admits anyone who buys a ticket.  This would be inviting a riot.

The lights dim and motion picture screen appears.  You are spared nothing.  You recognize the films as refugees from fraternal organization stag parties–the sort which leave you with the feeling of, "Well, now I've seen everything!"

Only after you leave the theater will you realize that most of the girls in the live revue just didn't size up in looks or figure to the showgirls back home.  That's because the Shanghai has the toughest casting problem on earth.  Even in Cuba where poor farm families drive their girls to the city to earn a living and where a fiancé will permit his intended bride to enter into shady and illicit practices for a year to finance a trousseau, most of them draw the line when it comes to appearing at the Shanghai Theater.

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