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‘ON YOUR FEET!’ Ana Villafañe as Gloria Estefan. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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ON YOUR FEET!
THE STORY OF GLORIA & EMILIO ESTEFAN

Featuring music produced & recorded by Gloria & Emilio Estefan
Book by Alexander Dinelaris
Directed by Jerry Mitchell
Choreography by Sergio Trujillo
Marquis Theatre
46th Street (between Broadway & 8th Avenue)
877-250-2929, www.onyourfeetmusical.com

By Scott Harrah

You’ll shake your body and do that “Conga” and yes, the “Rhythm is Gonna Get You.” If you grew up in the 1980s or 1990s listening to the infectious songs of Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine and her subsequent solo work, you’ll overlook Alexander (Birdman) Dinelaris’ boilerplate book of this energetic show. Why? Because Gloria and Emilio Estefan have enough golden oldie hits in their songbook to make us disregard the paper-thin storyline of their rise, fall and rise from the Cuban barrios of Miami to international stardom, with all the proverbial bumps in between. On Your Feet! The Story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan is one of the few feel-good Broadway shows in an otherwise lackluster fall season.

Granted, as a jukebox musical, the narrative in On Your Feet! is not as seamless as Jersey Boys or even Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, but it doesn’t matter. Broadway has never mounted a jukebox show with a Latin, salsa-tinged flavor until this, and the Estefans were indeed trailblazers that paved the way for Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Shakira and all the Latin pop crossover stars that followed. When the focus is on music and dancing, the show more than delivers with colorful costumes, Sergio Trujillo’s ebullient choreography, and a full Latin band, complete with all the inimitable Cuban percussion, flawless salsa sounds and a horn section, offering, to borrow an iconic line from “Conga,” “the rhythm of the island/And like sugarcane so sweet.”

Newcomer Ana Villafañe makes a superb debut here since she looks and sounds a lot like the real Gloria Estefan, and Ms. Villafañe shows off fine acting chops in numerous dramatic showdowns with family members. However, Josh Segarra, as her famous husband, looks nothing like the real Emilio Estefan. Mr. Segarra is also not much of a singer, but he is so drop-dead handsome and has such an endearing accent that audiences won’t care. Ms. Estefan’s story, while inspiring, is the typical rags-to-riches tale: Born in Cuba, young Gloria and her family fled to Miami as Fidel Castro rose to power.

Most of Act One deals with young Gloria’s clashes with her overprotective mother Gloria Fajardo, played with spunk by Andréa Burns (In the Heights), and Gloria’s dream of becoming a singer. Her mother does not approve of Gloria making music with Emilio and his Miami Latin Boys (later to become the famous Miami Sound Machine once Gloria became the lead vocalist), particularly since Mrs. Fajardo was performing as a nightclub singer in Havana, but had to put her own dreams on hold as the Batista government crumbled. Grandmother Consuelo (the winning Alma Cuervo) encourages Gloria to pursue her dreams of writing and singing music. Meanwhile, Gloria finishes a college degree in psychology while still performing on the club circuit.

We see Gloria and Emilio become stars in the music world throughout Latin America, but they encounter resistance from the record label when trying to release their first English-language single, “Dr. Beat.” They finally release the song, working hard to get it played on English-language Miami radio stations and in dance clubs across the country, but music industry executives tell them the song is too “dance” for mainstream America. When the group finally releases the Latin-tinged “Conga” (perhaps their biggest hit ever), the rest is history. The Estefans are on their way to superstardom by the end of Act One, leaving everything on a high note as cast members, including a little Jewish Bar Mitzvah boy in a yarmulke, move offstage and pull random audience members into a conga line for “Conga.”

Act Two mostly chronicles the Estefans’ marital struggles as Gloria becomes increasingly exhausted from touring, and fights with her husband and mother. In the winter of 1990, while on a tour bus on a snowy Pennsylvania highway, a horrible accident lands Gloria in the hospital, with a spinal injury and the possibility of paralysis, a nine-hour surgery and months of physical therapy. You already know the rest: Not only did Gloria recover, she went on to become an even bigger star, making a comeback on the American Music Awards, and singing another of her mega hits, “Reach,” at the Closing Ceremony of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in front of a global audience of millions. She made a hit solo record, reinventing such disco classics as “Turn the Beat Around” and the pop standard “Everlasting Love,” plus did many more sold-out world tours and Las Vegas gigs.

All the Gloria Estefan favorites are here, from “Bad Boys” to “1-2-3,” “Get On Your Feet,” “Words Get in the Way,” “Coming Out of the Dark,” and more. Gloria Estefan has won seven Grammy Awards and sold more than 100 million albums worldwide, so she is more than worthy of being a “jukebox heroine.” Cynics may write the show off as another excuse to peddle tried-and-true songs to the masses, but so what? Besides, Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell directs everything nicely with his usual entertaining touches, making On Your Feet! a “Gloria-fied” hit. If you are a Gloria Estefan fan, you must get “On Your Feet!“…and get tickets.

 

Edited by Scott Harrah
Published November 12, 2015
Reviewed at press performance on November 11, 2015

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‘ON YOUR FEET!’ Ana Villafañe (center) & cast. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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‘ON YOUR FEET!’ Ana Villafañe. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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‘ON YOUR FEET!’ Ana Villafañe (center) & cast. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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‘ON YOUR FEET!’ Ana Villafañe. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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‘ON YOUR FEET!’ Ana Villafañe. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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‘ON YOUR FEET!’ The cast of the new musical. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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‘ON YOUR FEET!’ Carlos E. Gonzalez & Ana Villafañe. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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‘ON YOUR FEET!’ Alexandra Suarez as Little Gloria. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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‘ON YOUR FEET!’ Andréa Burns. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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‘ON YOUR FEET!’ Ana Villafañe & Josh Segarra (center) & cast. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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‘ON YOUR FEET!’ The cast of the musical based on the life and music of Gloria & Emilio Estefan. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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‘ON YOUR FEET!’ Andréa Burns. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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‘ON YOUR FEET!’ Josh Segarra & Alma Cuervo. Photo: Matthew Murphy

'ON YOUR FEET!' Josh Segarra & Ana Villafañe. Photo: Matthew Murphy

‘ON YOUR FEET!’ Josh Segarra & Ana Villafañe. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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‘ON YOUR FEET!’ Josh Segarra & Ana Villafañe. Photo: Matthew Murphy

'ON YOUR FEET!' Ana Villafañe (center) & cast. Photo: Matthew Murphy

‘ON YOUR FEET!’ Ana Villafañe (center) & cast. Photo: Matthew Murphy

'ON YOUR FEET!' The cast. Photo: Matthew Murphy

‘ON YOUR FEET!’ The cast. Photo: Matthew Murphy

On Your Feet

‘ON YOUR FEET!’ Ana Villafañe. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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