|I found myself dancing out the doors after a performance of the hot new production of On Your Feet! at the Marquis Theatre. Full disclosure: I’m still humming some of the award-winning tunes a few weeks later.|
When I attend a Broadway show and notice “Broadway debut” listed in the Playbill “Who’s Who in the Cast” section, I have renewed faith in Broadway casting. I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate celebrities or familiar names taking the New York stage, but I am saying that the sheer undiscovered talent in this town –– in both a musical theater and dramatic capacity–– is daunting and shouldn’t go unnoticed. Plus, I have a soft spot in my heart for a fresh voice that hasn’t yet been heard. Such was the case when I went to a performance of the new musical, On Your Feet!. I didn’t have time to peruse the program before the show began, but when screening the credits afterward, I noticed that the actor playing Gloria Estefan was indeed making her Broadway debut. I liked the show from the get-go, but knowing this tidbit made me like this show a little bit more.
Admittedly, other than the basic story of Cuban-American superstars Gloria and Emilio Estefan, I knew little about this new jukebox musical. I didn’t realize before watching the 135-minute production (including one 15-minute intermission) that Gloria Estefan’s road to success came with its challenges, including a mother who didn’t support her decision to pursue a career in music, and her responsibility to help care for a father battling multiple sclerosis.
Gloria Fajardo (Ana Villefañe) originally pursued psychology, but when she meets would-be business partner and husband Emilio Estefan (Josh Segarra), she switches her career path to music, and the rest is history. But not so fast.
The story begins as Gloria is a little girl (played delightfully by Alexandria Suarez), and then as a young adult living in Miami in the 1970s. She meets Emilio Estefan and tries out her eventual hit song, “Anything for You” and wins his heart almost instantly before she goes on to perform with the Miami Latin Boys, later known as the Miami Sound Machine.
Gloria’s mother, also named Gloria (Andréa Burns), is reluctant to offer support for her daughter’s musical prowess, as she once abandoned her own singing career. At the same time, Consuela (Alma Cuervo), encourages her granddaughter to pursue both a relationship with Emilio and her music, as she provides the audience with a few chuckles along the way.
The show brings to light the Latin group’s struggle of transitioning to a mainstream band –– particularly in a powerful scene when Emilio speaks out, “You should look very closely at my face,” as he tries to convince his record producer to allow the band to record their music in English. “Because whether you know it or not, this is what an American looks like.”
This blockbuster production, directed by Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde), showcases familiar but lovable hits like “Conga,” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” as well as Estefan’s famed ballads. I recall grooving to these 1980s dance hits in nightclubs and crooning swoon-worthy slow dance songs in my red Pontiac Sunbird back in the day. What can I say? I’ve always been a fan.
The scintillating choreography by Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys, Memphis) is an essential ingredient, not to mention the colorful costumes by ESosa and vibrant sets by David Rockwell, which visually add Latin flavor to the production.
Villefañe is perfectly cast as Gloria Estefan. Not only does she resemble her physically, but her voice is almost a carbon copy. (Fun fact: both singers are Cuban-American and attended the same high school in Miami.)
I had a tough time believing that I wasn’t listening to Estefan’s voice during most of the show’s numbers, particularly during her performance of “Coming Out of the Dark,” as she sings the tune live on the American Music Awards. The songstress appears for the first time on national TV post a tragic bus accident in which she breaks her back. It’s during this catastrophic scene that the degree to which Emilio Estefan loves his wife and partner becomes evident, as he hovers over her hospital bed. After months of intense physical therapy, he convinces Gloria to perform live and make her comeback.
Segarra portrays a masculine yet gentle Emilio –– ladies of all ages swoon over his charm and good looks. Villefañe and Segarra together on stage project a palpable chemistry –– I could feel their passion sizzle from my seat in the balcony.
Andréa Burns’ performance as Gloria Fajardo (Gloria’s mother) is stellar, and Burns has some serious song and dance chops. The entire supporting cast and ensemble deserve an ovation for the lively musical numbers, which are integrated wonderfully throughout. You’ll probably want to jump to your feet (hence, the title) before the final curtain.
If you’re a fan of Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, this show is for you; if you have an appreciation for Latin culture and music, you’ll also enjoy this show. But ultimately, On Your Feet! is a musical for all who believe in the power of love, perseverance, and the American Dream.
The Estefans’ narrative reminds us of the infinite possibilities that come as the result of hard work and dedication, whether you’re born and bred in America or a transplant from another place in this world. This important message couldn’t be timelier or more poignant in this beautiful, true story that shines brightly from the Marquis Theatre on Broadway.
After I wrote this review, Ektor Rivera took the role of Emilio Estefan, and Doreen Montalvo took the role of Gloria Fajardo.
On Your Feet!
Tues at 7 p.m., Wed at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thur at 8 p.m., Fri at 8 p.m., Sat at 8 p.m., Sun at 3 p.m.
|The Cast of On Your Feet! – This show is a must-see!|