The stage is nearly bare but suggests a dark attic in London where four mice wearing impeccable gray suits are retelling the story of Cinderella. They stay largely faithful to Charles Perrault’s original plot, but we learn that the narrators–John, Paul, George and Ringo–grew up in Liverpool, love music and, when they call for help, they do so with the cry, “Help, I need somebody!” When Cinderella feels sad and forgotten in her vast, empty house, the Fab Four appear and one of them sings, “Ah, look at all the lonely people!”
The actors, whose ages range between 6 and 14, play their own instruments, often incorporating the lively rhythms of the Caribbean into familiar Beatles songs. They live in Havana and speak Spanish, but these children will perform the play entirely in English wherever they can. In recent years their company, La Colmenita (the little beehive), has appeared at some of the most important children’s theater festivals in the world: the World Festival of Children’s Theater, in Germany; the Hans Christian Andersen Children’s Theatre Festival, in Denmark; the International Festival at the Auditórium Cervantes, in Madrid; the International Festival of Music and Folk Dance, near Granada; as well as at dozens of other venues in Latin America, Asia and Europe. They regularly tour Cuba from one end of the island to the other; between performing other works from their wide repertory, they are preparing to premier Cinderella before a Beatles-crazed Havana audience.
The one place they will not be performing is the United States. “US law makes it next to impossible for Cuban artists, regardless of age, to enter the United States to perform,” explains Carlos Alberto Cremata, the 46-year-old director of La Colmenita, the largest children’s theater group in Cuba. In accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act–which authorizes the State Department to stop people whose entry would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States”–the US Consulate in Havana routinely denies visas to Cuban artists and academics. In 2004 George W. Bush increased the number of sanctions imposed on Cuba, and almost all artistic and cultural exchanges are now effectively banned. In 2004 the US government even refused a visa to Ibrahim Ferrer of the Grammy award-winning Buena Vista Social Club.
Recent American visitors to Cuba, including Danny Glover, Harry and Julie Belafonte, several senators and other well-known public figures–some of whom prefer to remain anonymous, fearing reprisals from the Bush Administration–have expressed interest in supporting and financing a US tour by La Colmenita. The company has been invited to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s annual meeting and to New York City’s Shakespeare in the Park, where they were to stage a bilingual version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “We haven’t even started applying for visas,” says Cremata, who is known in the Cuban theater world as Tin. “Every time the promoters try to organize a tour, they come up against a brick wall.”