“The Mamboniks,” a new documentary about the 1950s mambo craze, directed by Delaware native Lex Gillespie, screens Friday, March 15, at 3:30 p.., at the Cinema Art Theater in Lewes. It is the first documentary to tell the little-known story of Jewish dancers from New York in the 1950s who fell in love with the song and dance of Cuba - before Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution of 1959 crashed the party.
The film will be shown as part of the 4th annual Rehoboth Beach Jewish Film Festival, held between Wednesday, March 13, and Sunday, March 17. It is directed by Peabody Award-winning journalist Lex Gillespie, who grew up in Wilmington, and spent his summer vacations in Rehoboth. “It’s ‘Mad Men’ meets ‘Buena Vista Social Club,” says Gillespie. “It’s an entertaining romp with a cast of quirky, lovable characters.”
When much of America was discovering Elvis and rock-n-roll, Manhattan went mad for mambo, and surprisingly, many of its fans were Jewish. Like the beatniks of the era, the dancers earned a Yiddish-flavored nickname: the mamboniks. They sparked a dance craze that swept the nation - and the world.
“The Mamboniks” features a zany collection of retirees - dancers, musicians, disc jockeys, club owners and record company moguls. They’re still dancing - in their 70s, 80s and 90s. The love affair began in the 1920s Prohibition era, when American tourists visiting Cuba got their first taste of Afro-Cuban sounds, discovering rum, romance and the rumba.
The film’s soundtrack draws from the Cuban songbook and features Celia Cruz, Mongo Santamaría, and mambo king Pérez Prado. Blessed with a catchy beat, the mambo pirouetted to prominence in mid-Fifties America. Life magazine featured it on its cover, and it spawned pop hits like Perry Como’s “Papa Loves Mambo.”
It all ended with the Cuban Revolution and the arrival of the mop-haired Beatles during the British Invasion of the early ‘60s.
Director Gillespie has won three Peabody Awards and a Silver Baton from the Columbia School of Journalism for his feature stories and documentaries for National Public Radio and the Smithsonian Institution. “My film is all about building bridges between cultures,” says Gillespie, “it celebrates diversity, something we can use more of today.”
The film will be shown at the Cinema Art Theater, located at 17701 Dartmouth Drive, Lewes, in the Dartmouth Plaza behind the Lewes Wawa. Tickets are available at the box office or from the Rehoboth Beach Jewish Film Festival. For more information, call 302-645-9095.