BWW Review: Latin Rhythms Overcome ON YOUR FEET Shortfalls at Shea's Buffalo Theatre
LATIN RHYTHMS OVERCOME "ON YOUR FEET" SHORTFALLS
No one would be more surprised to see a Cuban-American immigrant turn into an international superstar than a young Gloria Estefan herself. But years later her story is being retold on stage in ON YOUR FEET- The Emilio and Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical. After a near 2 year run on Broadway that recently closed in August, the National Tour has been in Buffalo rehearsing for weeks and opened to an energetic audience on Saturday night at Shea's Buffalo Theatre.
ON YOUR FEET tells the life story of Gloria's meeting with a young musician named Emilio (who she would later marry), and their musical journey as Cuban immigrants now living in Miami. Her beloved grandmother helps orchestrate the beginnings of her career, while her dominating mother is not supportive, and her bed ridden father is dying with multiple sclerosis. It is evident from an early age that Gloria had the talent and her husband's fledgling band would prove a springboard to launching her career.
The music is made up of the large catalog of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine. In this jukebox style that has become popular on Broadway, the score is shoe horned in, often not seamlessly. Where it succeeds the most is when the hits are presented in a straight forward concert style. No one can question the brilliance of their music, and hits like "Get on Your Feet," "Rhythm is Gonna Get You," Turn the Beat Around," and "Conga" are so infectious that the audience can sit back and let the familiar tunes wash over them.
At other times, the story screams for a more dramatic score to help complement the plot. Miss Estefan endured much grief and tragedy in her life, and it would have been thrilling to see what music she could have written specifically for the script. There is one such number, composed by Ms. Estefan's daughter, that truly packed a punch entitled "If I Never Got To Tell You." Sung at Gloria's bedside after a horrific bus accident when she broke her spine, Gloria's dire situation is magnified as her husband, mother and son sing of their anguish.
The story of immigration and prejudices couldn't come at a more apt time in this country's history. Despite being hugely successful on the Latin Music Charts, record producers fought at every chance to help the Estefans "cross over" to the US market. Emilio's strong business sense is always questioned but his fortitude and pride in America comes to the forefront as he declares "This is what an American looks like," indicating himself. The struggles of the Estefans are illuminated in the book by Alexander Dinelaris, but the beginning of the show meandered and the pacing needs tightening. The story, while interesting, may not be worthy of a 2-1/2 hour stage musical.
Happily the talent on stage is top notch, starting with Christie Prades as Gloria. Appropriately awkward and spunky at first, Miss Prades blooms into a dynamo capable of commanding the stage and paying homage to the Ms. Estefan. Her voice is strong, and stands on it's own, without attempting to copy or immitate the Gloria Estefan sound. As she ages, her confidence grows but her relationship with her mother, Gloria Fajardo, suffers. Nancy Ticotin as the elder Gloria struts with an heir of confidence and power that makes her a magnetic presence on stage. Her belting voice allows her a chance in the spotlight, showing that even with a PhD she also had immense talent that went unrealized, and exposed an underlying jealousy of her daughter's success.
Alma Cuervo is a joyous character as Consuelo, Gloria's grandmother. Happily Ms Cuervo came directly from the Broadway production and exudes such a winning personality that anyone would want her as their supportive grandmother.
A charismatic young Mexican actor and recording artist Mauricio Martinez is making his debut as Emilio. In his comic entrance dressed in ridiculously short shorts, his suave demeanor sweeps Gloria and her grandmother of their feet. MR. Martinez employs a lovely light, lilting head voice that can grow to full throated drama when needed. The heat generated between Martinez and Prades was reminiscent of a steamy sultry Cuban night, and their long marriage is a testament to the end product we see in ON YOUR FEET.
Director Jerry Mitchell and Choreographer Sergio Trujillo have guided that large cast and ensemble towards a highly polished stage show. The infectious Latin dance rhythms of conga and samba penetrate the fluid dance moves of Mr. Trujillo, and each cast member is up to executing them with elan. The onstage orchestra, which glided up and down stage as needed, is made up of many of the members of the Miami Sound Machine. Needless to say, the style is engrained into them and the audience was keen on listening. Costumes by Emilio Sosa often harkened back to the glitz of the 80's, but also ran the gamut from peasant street clothes to award show glamour.
The finale ends well for the Estafans as Gloria re-emerges after her accident and rehabilitation on the AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS singing "Coming Out of the Dark." And what would any good jukebox musical be without a rousing medley of hits-- and yes, the captivated audience rose on their feet to dance and sing those beloved songs with the cast.
ON YOUR FEET plays at Shea's Buffalo Theatre through September 30, 2017. Contact sheas.org for more information and tickets.