BWW Review: ON YOUR FEET! Electrifies Audiences at The Hobby Center
Last night, On Your Feet! opened with a bang to an enthusiastic crowd at the Hobby Center. An electrifying production, On Your Feet! classifies as a jukebox musical--a production that weaves together an iconic artist's most popular songs with their biography (often focusing on the rise to stardom) to tell the artist's story through their own lyrics while adding all the elements of musical theatre. These biographical musicals can sometimes lose their footing in a focus either too completely on song or on biographical plot, but directed by Jerry Mitchell with a book by Alexander Dinelaris, On Your Feet! finds a balance between a storyline of Gloria and Emilo's lives while being jam-packed with loud, catchy, and thrilling song and dance numbers.
The plot is decorated with over twenty-five musical hits that carry us through familial strain, love and loss, international fame, and Gloria's life-altering accident. Bolstered by the spirited chorus and orchestra, the musical numbers pack with a punch and endlessly entertain. There is always something to look at during the show, whether it be the imaginative changes of lighting, decorative costumes, or remarkable choreography. Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo (Memphis, Jersey Boys), the dance numbers wowed in skill, precision, and talent, never failing to impress and entertain the crowd. This team of designers and creatives, in collaboration with brilliant actors and ensemble members, keep the pace up, the audience interested, and the performative energy high throughout the whole show.
Christie Prades is a powerhouse performer as Gloria Estefan. Her vocal performance is refined and flawless as she carries the show from start to finish, leading high energy, explosive dance numbers with what seems to be effortless excellence. Prades certainly has the triple-threat chops necessary to exemplify the spirited energy of Gloria as she journeys through her life. A wonder to watch onstage, she had the audience in the palm of her hand by the end of Act I's popular hit "Conga".
Another standout performance was given by Mauricio Martinez as Gloria's lover and sidekick in show business, Emilio Estefan. Martinez captured the audience's attention from the minute he strutted onstage in those tight white shorts, and his presence was felt all throughout the show-and Gloria's life--as he and Gloria were truly one in their love story, rise to fame, and passion for performance. A notable moment, especially given the current social and political climate, happened as Emilio stood up to a record producer that doubted the potential success of their music in the American music industry. Martinez earned enthusiastic applause mid-scene as he looked the producer in the eye, listed through the challenges him and Gloria had overcome to get to where they were, and said, "Whether you know it or not, this is what an American looks like".
It is more than necessary to mention the outstanding ensemble members, who had the immense task of singing, dancing, and performing their way through a span of consecutive musical numbers, a repertoire of dynamic, over-the-top moments, and what one can imagine to be endless racks of flamboyant costumes.
On Your Feet! is a unified example of a team of production designers working together toward a common ambition, in this case, telling the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan with as much vibrance and explosive energy as their story was truly lived. Set Design, by David Rockwell (She Loves Me, Kinky Boots), was practical and minimalistic, though more than adequate to tell the story accurately while still placing ultimate focus on the characters' vocal and dance performances. The set design functioned as a frame for the performances, giving context and functionality of location for Lighting Designer, Kenneth Posner.
With simple, but adaptable, set pieces, the atmosphere of On Your Feet! found its life and vivacity in electrifying lighting design. Designed by lighting professional Kenneth Posner, who holds over 50 Broadway play and musical theatre credits, the performance began with a piercing blast of colorful light bouncing off the walls of Sarofim Hall, reminiscent of the excitement of a concert setting. Throughout the production, the set pieces were artfully transformed into a variety of settings and moods through Posner's designs and projections, which tied together the themes of expressive vocals, explosive dancing, and over-the-top performances.
Costume designer Emilio Sosa (Broadway: On Your Feet!, Motown: The Musical) had the hearty challenge of creating boldly colored, eye-catching costumes that not only coincided with the storyline, but were also functionally flexible for the actors and ensemble to bust out vigorously energetic choregraphy. There was an abundance of costume changes and flashy transitions onstage that would happen in the blink of an eye, always keeping the audience on their toes and entertained.
During the finale number, the entirety of Sarofim Hall was quite literally 'on their feet', applauding and marveling at the power of performance happening onstage before them. In the moments in which all the elements of the theatre--sound, dance, lighting, costumes, vocals, and skillful talent--came together, the cast of On Your Feet was able to make 'soul' a tangible feeling. Though On Your Feet! celebrates its heart in the distinctive sound, movement, and culture of Latin America, this production reminds us that the performing and visual arts are a universal thrill.
Photos by Matthew Murphy.
On Your Feet! will be running performances through November 26th at the Hobby Center in Houston as part of the Broadway Across America season. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm, and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm. Prices range from $35 to $175. For tickets and information, please call the Box Office at 713.315.2525 or visit thehobbycenter.org.