BWW Review: ON YOUR FEET! at Starlight Theatre
Fans of Gloria and Emilio Estefan and their Miami Sound Machine are in for a treat with the touring version of their musical "On Your Feet!" now playing through Sunday at Starlight Theatre in Swope Park. "On Your Feet" kicks off Starlight's 2018 summer Broadway season.
"On Your Feet" is a fairly standard "juke box" musical with a salsa twist. The Estefan's Miami Sound Machine music is performed exceptionally well. The production is expertly choreographed by Sergio Trujillo with direction by Jerry Mitchell. The expert dancers and singers could easily be the pros from "Dancing With The Stars." It is evident they were cast for their competitive Ballroom Latin skills.
Taking on the role of Gloria is the excellent Christie Prades. Ms. Prades does a more than passable Gloria, but is an even prettier girl than was the original in her prime. Mauricio Martinez is Emilio. Local audiences know him as Che Guevara from the outstanding recent Kansas City Repertory Theatre production of "Evita." Mauricio does not disappoint.
Despite all their eventual success and wealth, the Estefans did not have an easy road. Both were exiled from their native Cuba when the Castros took over in 1959. Gloria grew up in Miami, a typical American girl. Emilio is a little older and ran a local Latin dance band until he met young Gloria.
Gloria's father went from being a Cuban policeman under Batista to being a U.S. Army officer who served in Viet Nam. He returned from service as victim of a debilitating disease that eventually caused his early death.
While popular among other Latinos, the Estefans found crossing over into mainstream music a challenge because of race. The most frequently quoted line from the show is when Emilio declares to a record producer that "He is what an American looks like." Eventually the group broke through and invented the combination sound that made them famous. The emotional heart of the story is Gloria's prolonged recovery from a horrific bus accident that damaged her spine in 1990.
The music does move. The actors are excellent. The dancers are expert booty shakers. Those who go for the dance and the music will be thrilled. Those who go for the theatrical experience will enjoy a pleasant evening.
Starlight management, as always, takes great pains to mitigate challenges faced in a modern mass gathering world. Starlight Theatre is a huge, mostly outdoor, 8000 seat theatrical complex. The oversize stage house allows for practically any special effect one could imagine. In fact, many of the touring productions that do play the Kansas City facility are designed to be performed on much smaller stages.
A welcoming presence, superior product displays, patron safety and viewer comfort are all key corporate values at Starlight. You cannot approach or leave the facility on a performance night without being welcomed and thanked for your patronage.
For the first time, visible security screening is seamlessly introduced. Magnetometers and cursory bag searches screen all patrons at the entrances. The process is quick and non-threatening, but allows for an additional level of comfort for those concerned about such things.
A number of customer enhancements have been blended into the environment over the years. First, several years ago, the sound systems were upgraded to exceptional. Ponchos, seat cushions, hearing assistance for the audio challenged, and even ear plugs are available at minimal cost. Last year, video versions of the on stage action improved the experience for patrons seated more remotely from the stage up above and on both sides of the proscenium. This year, whisper quiet, overhead fans have been installed over the amphitheater to keep the air moving even on the hottest days. Tuesday opening night was moderately warm, but made even more comfortable with the slight man made breeze from above. These air movers should make hot summer evenings at Starlight more pleasant.
"On Your Feet" continues at Starlight Theatre through May 27. Tickets are available on the Starlight Theatre website or by telephone at the box office.
Photos courtesy of Starlight Theatre