Regional Reviews: Phoenix
On Your Feet! follows the Cuban-born duo from when they first meet in Miami through the ups and downs of their long-running careers. Gloria is somewhat reluctant at first to join Emilio's band and has to deal with her overbearing mother, who would prefer she stick to her original plan to have a career in psychology. Fortunately, Gloria's lovable grandmother encourages her on. The plot focuses on the family conflicts, the high work ethic, and drive of the couple, the need to cross over from the Spanish-language market into the more lucrative English-speaking music scene, the tour bus accident that left Gloria with a broken back, and her comeback when she performed at the 1991 American Music Awards. Along the way, we see the struggles they face, including dealing with a record executive who doesn't believe a Latin band can succeed if they perform in English, and having to maneuver around Gloria's mother's stubborn ways and her slightly jealous feelings of Gloria.
Alexander Dinelaris' book is fine as it follows the basic backstage lows and onstage highs of many other similar jukebox shows and musicals centered on performers. While both the beginning and the end are a tad clunky, it does offer a few interesting insights that fans may not be familiar with, including how both Emilio and Gloria's families had to escape from Cuba, how Gloria's father suffered from multiple sclerosis and served in Vietnam, and how the taut relationship they had with her mother resulted in several years of silence between them. However, the drive for Emilio and Gloria to find success isn't that different from anyone else who wants to succeed and has a disapproving parent, and the show doesn't have much new to offer in intrigue or in-depth analysis of the recording industry or in portraying the struggle of Latinos. Also, once they find huge success in the English-speaking market, the show doesn't really celebrate that, with only the inclusion of one scene where Emilio gets a big follow-up contract deal, which makes the drive seem suddenly less important to their story.
However, even though Emilio and Gloria were behind this show, including serving as two of the musical's main producers, they don't steer away from some of the rough moments in their past, including the struggles with Gloria's mother and the blame over the accident that almost took Gloria's life. Also, they don't have a problem with poking fun at themselves, including how Emilio is portrayed as fast-talking, heavily accented, and sometimes not understandable. There is also a good balance of comedy and drama in the book, and director Jerry Mitchell keeps the show moving along at a fast pace with the use of a few important flashback scenes and seamless transitions. Also, Mitchell finds a way to perfectly incorporate the vast and varied songs from the Estefans into their journey. Using their infectious, upbeat songs as performance numbers and the ballads as a way to portray the inner thoughts and feelings of the main characters works brilliantly. Also, the lyrics for these songs make perfect sense and sound natural coming out of their mouths, never seeming shoe-horned into the plot or the characters' situations. Many of these ballads are turned into moving duets as well. The inclusion of one new song, the beautiful "I Never Got to Tell You," is the emotional centerpiece of the show.
With voices and looks close enough to the original couple, Christie Prades and Ektor Rivera are excellent and full of charisma as Gloria and Emilio. They both were replacements for the leads on Broadway and expertly get across the duo's drive to succeed and their undying love for each other. As Gloria's disapproving and bitter mother, Nancy Ticotin is a force to be reckoned, with while Alma Cuervo, who created the role on Broadway, is full of warmth and a huge heart as Gloria's grandmother. In smaller parts, Eddie Noel projects a deep love for his family as Gloria's father; Ana-Sofia Rodriguez sings brightly as the younger version of Gloria; the young Jeanpaul Medina Solano dances up a storm in a few small roles; and Devon Goffman is fine as the stereotypically uninterested record executive.
Sergio Trujillo's energetic choreography, which includes both Latin-inspired moves and touches of 1970s and '80s disco and hip-hop, is excellent and refreshing. The onstage band is superb under Clay Ostwald's music direction. David Rockwell's simple but effective scenic design uses a few large rotating panels and projections by Darrel Maloney to cinematically transition us back and forth from Cuba to Miami and the many locations in the show, while Kenneth Posner's lighting perfectly blends the constantly moving and changing lights for the onstage performance numbers with the softer colors and hues for the offstage scenes. The costumes designed by Emilio Sosa provide a range of styles that effectively portray the Latin roots of the main characters and also the looks of the period.
While the book for On Your Feet! may be slight, with such huge Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine hits as "Conga," "1-2-3," "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," and the title tune, and an excellent cast and creative elements, this is a fresh, energetic, and hugely crowd-pleasing show that beautifully portrays the hard-fought road to success and the deep relationship of this famous couple.
On Your Feet!, through November 11, 2018, at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe AZ. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480 965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit onyourfeetmusical.com/tour/.
Book by Alexander Dinelaris