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BWW Interview: Claudia Yanez of ON YOUR FEET! at Orpheum Theater

BWW Interview: Claudia Yanez of ON YOUR FEET! at Orpheum TheaterON YOUR FEET! based on the life and music of Emilio and Gloria Estefen will hit the Orpheum stage on February 26. Written by Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris and directed by two-time Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell, the show carries on its excellence through unbeatable choreography by Tony Award nominee and Olivier Award winner Sergio Trujillo. I recently spoke with Claudia Yanez, who will appear on stage throughout the run in Omaha as Gloria.

Claudia Yanez (Gloria) began her professional career singing background vocals for Jon Secada, the Grammy Award winning artist who co-wrote "Coming Out of the Dark" with Gloria Estefan. She studied performance at Berklee College of Music and theatre at the Boston Conservatory. Her favorite credits include Off-Broadway: Spamilton. Regional: Mamma Mia! and A Chorus Line at The Weston Playhouse. Instagram: @claudiayanez

I spoke with Claudia and asked her about her experiences traveling with her first national tour, and what it's like appearing as musical icon Gloria Estefen.

How long have you been on this tour?

I opened the tour! I'm part of the original tour cast, which is amazing. Normally, I play Rebecca, Gloria's sister, and cover Gloria, but I get the huge honor of playing Gloria all week in Omaha for our Orpheum run. I'm really excited! I've gotten to play Gloria a bunch and it's such a thrill every time.

Have you met Gloria and Emilio Estefen?

Yeah. We've had the pleasure of meeting them a bunch of times. They, since it's obviously their life story, have been super involved. They came to Buffalo when we were in previews. They were in Miami. They came to DC when we were at The Kennedy Center and most recently in West Palm Beach.

I read an LA Times article in which Gloria said she did not want to be cloned. So "put away the binoculars." Have you felt that you need to be as much like Gloria as possible, or do you make it more your own?

I mean, definitely you want to honor the music. Gloria's sound is so incredibly unique. You want to make sure you pay homage to her music, and are doing it justice. At the same time, I think you have to bring yourself into the role in order to be truthful to the story. I was raised in Miami. I am from Venezuela. I grew up with Gloria's music. Those are all things that help me connect to the role. It also helps that we have some of the Miami Sound Machine Members in our show, including our music director Clay who was Gloria's right hand man, so we are getting taught by people who were there and who lived it.

Did you emigrate from Venezuela or did your family move here before you were born?

I did. I was born in Venezuela and I was there until I was seven. And then I moved to Miami where I grew up.

I understand that the majority of the Broadway cast is Latino. Is that true of this national touring cast?

It's still true. I think we have two people who are not Latino. The rest of our company is Hispanic, which is beautiful. This is my first big job as well. I've done a couple of Off Broadway shows and regional work, but this is my first big production from Broadway. To get to share it with my community and to get to be fully myself...the Claudia I was at home growing up with my parents. It's so special.

Do you do outreach to Latino communities?

Yeah, I mean we've done a couple. We constantly get young people writing us from Mexico and other places saying they love the show. Or thanking us for representing Latin people. You never get your dream job and think that now you're representing a community of people, but it kind of happened. It's a beautiful part of it. It's a beautiful responsibility.

Is there a particular message of this show? Is it immigration or perseverance in following your dream or is it a love story that everyone can appreciate?

I think there is something for everyone. The beauty of the show is that it is so well-written. Alexander Dinelaris, our book writer, did such an amazing job with putting the story down in a theatrical way. There's something in it for everyone. It's about following your dreams. It's about being true to who you are. It's about adversity. It's about letting yourself fall in love. It's also about two people who emigrated to this country from Cuba who came here with nothing and built an empire based solely on who they were. They didn't compromise their sound for anyone, even when there were times that people told them that their sound wasn't going to work. They trusted their gut and went with it. Now we have Gloria and Emilio Estefen as they are now.

How was the audition process? Was that pretty rigorous?

I didn't go in for it until it was winding down in New York. I remember I went in something like ten times. It was crazy. I was doing a show at the time. My cast-mates were like, "Where are you going?" and I'd tell them I was going back for another callback. They were like, "Are you kidding me?" I went in for the associate director, Andy Senor, a couple times for the New York production. I would get to the end, to the final callbacks, and they would tell me that they didn't actually need anyone now. Each time it was like that. Then the last time, it was me and this other actress and they told me that night that I would be doing the tour. It was amazing. I want to say that the whole thing took about six months of on and off auditioning.

I sang background vocals for Jon Secada. He started his career singing background vocals for Gloria. Emilio produced his first album that went like twenty times platinum. So, they have a really great relationship. I remember doing theater in Vermont and Jon's wife, Mari, called me. She said, "Just so you know, they're making Gloria's life into a musical and I think you should audition." This has been on my radar for so long, but at the time they were doing the New York auditions, I was out of town doing a show, so it didn't work out. Then, when I finally got into the room, I was like, "I am meant to be here! I'm not taking no for an answer." It worked out pretty well.

You have your own story of perseverance and struggle. What was the first show that you booked out of school?

First show..I did a regional production of Mamma Mia! at a theatre that I love in Vermont. It's called the Weston Playhouse. They invest so much in young artists. Right after that I did Spamilton Off Broadway. It was the parody of Hamilton. I did that for a year. It ended on a Sunday and on that Monday I had rehearsal for ON YOUR FEET!

My daughter and I go to NYC every year or so to see shows. This last time we talked to a young friend who was just in the musical Comfort Women. She was telling us about the 5:00 am lines around the building waiting to get appointments for auditions. Was it like that for you?

Yeah, to be honest I went through that for not quite a year. My first six months in the city I didn't have an agent. So, I was waking up ...I remember as clear as day... waking up at like 5 in the morning, putting on sweatpants and really warm clothes to go to Midtown to sign up, then go back home, take a nap, wake up and do my makeup. There's actually a video of me showing up at a Hamilton ECC or something. I had done the whole wake up early thing, I had a full face of makeup, and they sent all of us home. That was four hours of my life. It's fine. But yeah, it's hard.

You really have to want something to put up with that.

Yeah. For sure. It's much like you said about Gloria and Emilio having to persevere in their story. Being an actor in New York is all about perseverance. And all about sticking to your guns, even when you feel like giving up. You just have to trust that you have something to offer and a voice to tell a story against all odds.

We have eight weeks of tour left and I think it's beautiful. It's been the joy of my life to be able to travel with this company of actors. They're all from different places, like Puerto Rico, Cuba, name it. Especially today in the political climate and the way the world looks, to be able to travel the country with this story and show people a side of Latin people that they haven't seen before. And to bring them into the sense of community that comes along with our people. It's been the joy of my life getting to travel the country representing Latinos and helping to tell the story in any way, shape or form. Wow. A bucket list for me.

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From This Author Christine Swerczek