By Morgan Politzer
“On Your Feet! The Emilio and Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical” lived up to its name, and quite literally had the audience on their feet in this hip-swishing, skirt-swirling production.
“On Your Feet!” is a salsa-infused showcase of the dance-floor hits and dreamy ballads that made 26-time Grammy winners Gloria and Emilio Estefan, and their band, Miami Sound Machine, famous. Directed by Jerry Mitchell, the show pairs musical numbers full of Latin rhythm and Cuban beat with snappy wit to tell the true story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan and their rise to stardom. The show also includes the story of the 1990 car crash that broke Gloria’s back and almost took her life, bringing a more serious tone to the end of this otherwise flashy and sparkly musical.
The national tour of this Broadway hit brought with it a new cast, including swoon-worthy Mauricio Martínez as Emilio, and Christie Prades in the role of lovable Gloria. Prades is finally the strong, deeper-voiced love interest that theater so desperately needs. So often, the female lead in a musical sings in a sweet, angelic soprano, leaving altos stuck in supporting roles. Prades brings something new to the stage with a voice that’s a little bit raspy and a little bit blues-y, but still full of the strength and power of the real Gloria Estefan. Combined with hits from the original Miami Sound Machine, like “Conga,” “Don’t Wanna Lose You,” “Get on Your Feet” and “Turn the Beat Around,” there was a raw, electric energy that left the audience singing and dancing long after the curtain closed. But while the show is upbeat and fun, it also tells a tale of the struggles of Cuban immigrants and the discrimination they face.
The audience is quickly introduced to young Gloria, (the talented Carmen Sanchez in this performance) and her family in Miami, where they immigrated after leaving Cuba. Gloria is known by her neighbors and friends for her incredible voice, but is forced to put her music dreams on hold to care for her father José (Jason Martinez) after he returns home from the war in Vietnam. It is not until she meets Emilio and is invited to sing with his band that she begins to take her music seriously. While Gloria’s musical acclaim grows, her cynical mother (Nancy Ticotin) condemns her ambitions. In contrast, Gloria’s abuela, or grandmother, played by the lovable Alma Cuervo, fiercely supports Gloria’s growing musical career.
The production’s spicy salsa musical numbers wouldn’t be complete without Sergio Trujillo’s fast-paced, hip-swinging choreography. Swirling skirts, glittery costumes and percussion-laced songs show Gloria’s evolution from a shy and quiet girl into a powerful young woman willing to fight for who she is and what she wants.
Like most recent theater, “On Your Feet!” follows the trend of relating to the current political climate. Following an argument Emilio and Gloria have with a music producer about their hope of recording a song in English, the producer tells them to “go back home” to Cuba. Emilio defends his right to stay in the United States, heatedly telling the producer “You should look very closely at my face, because whether you know it or not … this is what an American looks like.” This line does its job, eliciting huge applause from the audience. Just days after new political issues arose over the immigration controversy in the present day, Emilio’s message mirrors that of protests and immigrants across the country.
Full of songs perfect for dancing, quippy jokes and real emotion, “On Your Feet!” is an unconventional musical in the best possible way.
“On Your Feet! The Emilio and Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical” will run at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts through Jan. 28, 2018.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Matthew Murphy.
Morgan Politzer is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org.