On Your Feet! exploded onto the stage at Shea’s opening night with colored lights flashing all around the house, Latin music pumping from the orchestra on stage, and dancers moving so rapidly to the beat of that incredible music that my senses were immediately electrified, and I did just want to get on my feet and dance. It was not easy to stay seated as that amazing music just kept on coming, but in the end we did all get on our feet and the rhythm did get us. More about that later.
On Your Feet! is the musical story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, their families, their early years of struggle to have their music heard, their success, Gloria’s injury in an accident in 1990, and her recovery. It is a personal story that shares some of the pain Gloria experienced with her parents–her father’s illness and her estrangement from her mother, and the difficulties the Estefans had getting their music into the mainstream. The Estefans have been in Buffalo this week and, at a press conference, Gloria is quoted in the Buffalo News as saying “…you always want to try new things. But in order for it to have some kind of depth and connect with people honestly, you have to be honest. You have to get down and be human and let everybody see that.”
This production does that in short scenes that take place mainly in Gloria’s family home in Miami where her father, a Vietnam veteran, suffers from multiple sclerosis, and her mother discourages her from pursuing her singing career and expresses her dislike of Emilio in no uncertain terms. Her abuela (grandmother) Consuelo encourages her, however, in a very charming and warm-hearted manner. Emilio expresses his frustration and anger with the record producer, Phil, who refuses their request to produce a song in English because America is not ready for “Miami” singers (by which he means Cuban singers) to cross over. These scenes provide us with just a taste of what commitment and grit it must have taken to become such successful entertainers, producers, and entrepreneurs.
There are many fine comic moments, too, such as Emilio’s entrance in too-tight shorts, Gloria teasing Emilio about his accent, or Consuelo encouraging romance between the two.
The story weaves in and around the twenty-six songs in the show. They move from the high energy, bouncy, get-up-and-dance tunes like Conga and Rhythm Is Gonna Get You, to the ballads Here We Are, Don’t Wanna Lose You, and Coming Out of the Dark, written about Gloria’s recovery from the accident.
The cast is first rate, as is the orchestra. Christie Prades (Gloria) has a beautiful voice and great energy as she sings and dances, although she does lack the more sultry quality of Ms. Estefan. Mauricio Martinez (Emilio) is sexy, funny, and intense as he pushes and goads his band and Gloria to excellence. Nancy Ticotin as Gloria Fajardo, is testy and angry in early scenes, and then demonstrates a mother’s love. She is terrific in her number in the nightclub in Cuba just as Castro takes over and her dreams of being a star are destroyed. Alma Cuervo (Consuelo) is a standout as Gloria’s abuela--encouraging, funny, and very wise. The supporting cast is also tip-top.
Note: I love to dance and to watch dancing, and the dancers in this show are wonderful. Serjio Trujillo’s choreography combined with Emilio Sosa’s costumes (I particularly like the colorful early Miami clothes), and the talent of the dancers themselves make for a sometimes breathtaking experience.
Colorful is an excellent word to describe On Your Feet! as directed by Jerry Mitchell. It is a musical of many colors–hot Latin rhythms, family love and angst, professional drive, talent and commitment many of us can only imagine, music, music, music, and dance, dance, dance.
At the “all the bells and whistles” finale, we were all encouraged to get on our feet and dance, and get on our feet and dance we did. I liked that part a lot. You will, too, when you get yourself to Shea’s this week to see On Your Feet!