BWW Reviews: ON YOUR FEET! Musical Gloriously Dances Forward In World-Premiere Production
In an artful blend of musical theater glamour and Latin grooves, the world-premiere musical "On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan" brings that duo to the stage in a colorful and immensely entertaining production. This catchy jukebox musical manages to accomplish that rare feat of incorporating both dialogue and music in a way that makes the two feel of apiece, thanks to Alexander Dinelaris's clever book. With direction by Jerry Mitchell and superb choreography by Sergio Trujillo, "On Your Feet!" will certainly have audiences in the mood for dancing. And with Ana Villafañe in the lead role as Gloria, the musical has certainly found the superstar that it requires.
"On Your Feet!" follows Gloria and Emilio from their early days as teenagers performing in a local Miami band to their rise as a chart-topping couple in the music industry - with Gloria making huge strides as a pop star, indeed. In the musical's first act, we see the headstrong Gloria and determined Emilio fight to have their music heard. Along the way, "On Your Feet!" offers us a glimpse into the dynamic of this music power couple and also tells us about Gloria's life and her occasionally tenuous relationship with her family back in Miami.
Just as the music of Gloria and Emilio combines Latin rhythms and pop sensibilities, "On Your Feet!" succeeds in melding together the tradition of musical theater with the stylings of Latin music and dance. Trujillo's choreography is perhaps one of the best examples of this in the show, which gracefully incorporates salsa moves with the precision of jazz standards we find in most musicals. The dancing truly gives a distinct personality to the show, helping set the stage for the Latin pop crossover music it accompanies. As performed by Villafañe and the ensemble of "On Your Feet!," I found myself totally wrapped up in it. The inclusion of an original song by Gloria and daughter Emily that has the sound of a classic musical theater ballad plays nicely in the mix. David Rockwell's detailed-yet-flexible set design, Kenneth Posner's vibrant lighting design, and Esosa's lush and glittering costumes also add to the festive atmosphere of "On Your Feet!"
Central to the success of "On Your Feet!" is the triumphant work of Villafañe as Gloria. She has a true powerhouse voice and launches full-force into each of Gloria's hits with her soaring vocals. Villafañe also knows how to move to the beat, leaning intentionally and artfully into each and every one of her dance moves. As an actor, she's entirely believable too. Timid and shy at first, we watch as she struggles to learn a basic dance routine at a band rehearsal. By the end of the first act, though, Villafañe dances as if nothing comes more naturally. As Emilio, Josh Segarra nicely plays the role of Gloria's determined and devoted partner-in-crime. Together, the two possess legitimate on-stage chemistry and make us believe in their unwavering support for one another. Andréa Burns convincingly plays the role of the concerned mother and possesses a beautiful voice to boot, nailing the number "Mi Tierra" in the first act. In various roles, young Eduardo Hernandez proves that he's a true talent in the making - his spot-on dance moves provide show-stopping fun. And as Little Gloria, Alexandria Suarez demonstrates her full and mature singing voice. The ensemble of "On Your Feet!" succeeds in providing tons of energy, tuneful back-up vocals, and well-executed dancing for the show.
The first act of "On Your Feet!" packs in number after high-energy number, keeping up a brisk and exciting pace. The segment at the end of the first act that shows Gloria and Emilio's struggle to make "Conga" into a massive hit is a highlight. The pace slows a bit too much, however, in the second act when things take a more serious turn. While the aforementioned original number sung by Emilio and Gloria's mother in the wake of a car accident in which Gloria is seriously injured makes for a touching moment, the more grave, slower-paced side of the show lasts a few moments too long.
"On Your Feet!" provides plenty of summer fun in this pre-Broadway production. Gloria and Emilio's story comes to glorious life in this infectious show. Audiences will be tempted to practice their salsa dance moves to the tune of famous songs such as "Conga," "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," and, of course, "Get On Your Feet." This musical made me feel like I wanted to do exactly what that last song commands.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy