BWW Interview: Eddie Noel plays José Fajardo in ON YOUR FEET! THE MUSICAL National Tour Headed to New Orleans

BWW Interview: Eddie Noel plays José Fajardo in ON YOUR FEET! THE MUSICAL National Tour Headed to New Orleans

As someone who was a child in the late 80s - early 90s, and as someone whose father is a music guru, there was no other option but to know, love, and dance to the music of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. I'm sure I'm not alone in that, and I'm even more sure that even if you weren't growing up during that time and didn't have a parent who taught you about music you know Gloria and Emilio's music anyway. It's on the radio, on TV, in commercials, absolutely everywhere. And it's GREAT!

Lucky for us, an incredibly talented creative team decided that the world knows the music, but it's about time we learned the story of the people behind the music. ON YOUR FEET! THE MUSICAL gives us a glimpse into the hardships and obstacles Gloria and Emilio had to overcome in their lives to pursue their passion for their music, and to become the best of the best at what they do.

Eddie Noel, a Puerto Rico native and former dancer with Gíbaro de Puerto Rico, plays José Fajardo in the current touring company of ON YOUR FEET. Eddie generously chatted with me about his journey from performing in Puerto Rico to couch surfing at his cousin's New York home while he worked and auditioned, and finally earned his place in this incredibly talented cast, as well as what we can look forward to from this story and some of his favorite moments in the show. Keep reading to learn more about Eddie and ON YOUR FEET! THE MUSICAL.

How did you get into this world of performing?
When I was 15 years old, I started in a folklore dance company in Puerto Rico called Gíbaro de Puerto Rico. Of course it's folklore dances, but the companies do a lot of theatre, too. That company that's where I started dancing, singing, and then acting. I always had the interest to do it all, but in that company I used to dance. And of course talent shows and everything at school, but in a professional way it was in that company.

How long did it take you to realize this wasn't just something you liked to do for fun, but something you wanted to do as a career?
Well, I always loved to do theatre, and I used to play in the band in my town. I used to play trombone. The music started with that, with playing the trombone, and then the plays at the school. But, when I was doing my bachelor's degree in telecommunications I was already inside the theatre world working more than what I was studying. I finished my bachelor's degree because I wanted to, but I was already working in theatre. I was doing RENT. I was doing different musicals in Puerto Rico. So basically I finished the bachelor's degree just to finish, but I was very interested about that so I can say a point that I realized I could keep doing this was at university in the middle of my studies in my bachelor's degree in telecommunications. Maybe my third year of my bachelor's degree I realized that no I want to do performing, but I want to finish this, too, because of my passion. So yeah. And everything's connected because in telecommunications in Puerto Rico I used to work in TV, but in back of the camera. I used to be a TV host, too, so I had all that background if I wanted to know how to edit my stuff. Everything connects at some point.

It's kind of cool how things fit together like that! I talk with so many people from so many different backgrounds, and it's amazing how theatre connects to all of it in some way, shape, or form.
Definitely, because in this business it's not only to be on stage and do your thing. You have to promote yourself. If you want to edit your pictures or video auditions, you need to record yourself with a good light, and how to edit... that's part of the way of telecommunications, too. So everything connects.

What are some of the other shows that you've been a part of, before we get into ON YOUR FEET?
In Puerto Rico, my first gig as a professional out of the dance company was RENT in 2009. That's one of the shows that actually... I shared a stage with other people... even Ektor Rivera who's playing with us as Emilio was Benny in that production, so we worked in Puerto Rico together. It's been nice working and having this experience with him here. I did RENT, I did GODSPELL, I did LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, I did FOOTLOOSE... I think those are the main, yeah, those are the big ones.

Tell me a little about ON YOUR FEET. We have here the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, and so many people know the music, but I don't know that many people know their story. Without giving too much of the story away, can you tell me what we can look forward to in this show?
It's the story of two immigrants to the U.S. who have an American dream, and in this show you can see a lot of stuff since she was a girl in Cuba and all the struggles that she went through even with her father - that is the character I play - and the way that he connects with her since she was a child by different recordings and how he supported her even in Vietnam. Even with the distance it doesn't matter so he said yeah I'm gonna support you, and when she was growing up the way that she supports him when he came from Vietnam with the Agent Orange [poisoning] and the multiple sclerosis that he has. You can see all of that since she was a girl, and then as a grown up woman the people that actually help her to find her dreams basically pass away and then she met Emilio. She went through all this process in the business, so you can see all the process of the business and how they have to deal and fight in this business because they are Latins. After that, when she gets all the success, the way that she has to struggle after the accident, so we can see that in the show. And the struggle with the mom, with her mom. Her mom was an artist, too, but she never supported her too much until harsh stuff had to happen and realize that the family is the more important thing. I think everyone can relate in this show, not only the ones who want to be an artist. Different parts of the show will touch your heart in so many ways that it doesn't matter. It's not just about Gloria Estefan, the artist. It's about Gloria Estefan, the human, and how you can relate. And not only Gloria, but Emilio. When they go to the show, it's not the show of this superstar. It's a human that has to struggle with a lot of stuff that all of us, even as American citizens, have to struggle with. Besides that, of course, you have the music, you have a lot of stuff, you have the Miami Sound Machine playing for you. We have five of the original members; a lot of people don't know that! We share the stage with the real stars that have been with Gloria all around the world, and they've been playing this show since Broadway. They did it on Broadway and now they have the tour. Talking with them is amazing. They'll tell you oh I had this concert in '92 or whatever. You can see if you go to YouTube seeing them with the long hair and everything.

I imagine that's got to be really cool touring with them. Are there any particular stories that they've told that you really enjoyed hearing?
Talking with them, it's not like a story, it's just talking with them. They're human beings like us, and they make you realize that it's not about being famous, it's about having a job and being happy of what you do and being grateful that you have a job. With them, every time we talk with them, of course they tell different stories of how this song came up or when they played this what happened, you know? But, at the same time, for me, being around them just made me realize that we're all the same at some point. Of course, they have the experience or whatever, but when we are on stage we are the same. We are performers. We have a job that we're gonna deliver all these stories and all this music and be happy of what we're doing. That's the most important thing... not only a paycheck. They're so amazing that they have this passion about the music that sometimes we have to do something quick or as a favor or for an audition, and they don't say no. They're so passionate about it that they can help. It's more of a life experience and an impression more than any other story they can tell us.

Is this the first time that you've been part of a touring production?
Yeah. Outside of Puerto Rico, yes. The other production that I did was HAIR, and we came to Louisiana to perform. There was a Puerto Rican production, but yeah, outside of Puerto Rico yes this is my first tour of a Broadway touring company, and to get here was an interesting journey.

Well, tell me about that. How did you wind up on this tour?
My first contact with the show was on April last year when they sent me an email. My manager sent me an email about the Emilio package... that they were looking for the official Emilio for the tour. He said to send us three songs and see what happens. He's a Puerto Rican manager, and he's got contacts in New York, and was like ok let's do it. So I sent it, I waited for like two weeks, and then I received a text that, yes, you got a callback in New York, the creative team wants to meet you, and yea. So, that was so exciting. I went to New York and I did the audition in front of all the creative teams. In that moment Emilio wasn't there, but Jerry Mitchell was there, Andy Señor, Jr. (they're the director and assistant director), and Clay Ostwald the music director of the Miami Sound Machine and the musical director of our show, too, was there. In the room, I realized I was with all these people, and it was my first audition in New York that was basically in Times Square with all these people... Tony winners. I had to pinch myself in that moment. At the moment, they were only looking for their Emilio, so I did the audition, the feedback was amazing. Jerry Mitchell and the way that he directed me and what he said to me was very nice. Then I get out of the room, and I was still nervous when you get out of the room and so excited. Two days later the manager called me and told me Eddie, you didn't get it at this time, but they were very happy of what you did, but they were looking for an image of Emilio. So, at that moment I didn't get it, but after we had the hurricane in Puerto Rico in September, in October I decided to move officially to New York because that was part of my plans to do it in January this year, but they cancelled everything for me in Puerto Rico... all the productions and everything. So, I just said I'm gonna buy this ticket, I'm gonna call my cousin in New York, I have to move. So I moved to New York, sleeping on the couch, I found a job in Times Square. I was working in front of the building, that same building that I was auditioning in April. I was like, yeah I'm gonna be there again at some point, maybe for that show or another show. I went to New York, I'm working at this retail store, and in January I received a call from a manager that I contacted in New York and she said ok they're looking for ensemble and cover for Emilio in the tour, do you want to do it? I was like of course! For that one I auditioned and they remembered me from that moment and then they wanted to see me dancing. And, of course, I've been dancing all my life so the dance audition was a big plus because I connected with Sergio Trujillo, with Maria Torres, and they're the choreographers of the show. The last callback was with Jerry Mitchell in the building where he was rehearsing PRETTY WOMAN at that point, at that moment. The dance audition there was maybe 20-something, and for that last callback there were only 5 of us... three boys and two girls. And, we did it, and a week later I received a call. And when I received the call, in 2 days I was joining the tour, and starting rehearsals, and in 2 weeks I did my debut with the company in Dallas, I remember, in March.

Wow! That's really quick turnaround from finding out you got the role to starting to perform!
Yeah, and one of the things that's amazing is that in less than six months in New York... I went to New York to do something specific, and in less than six months I got it. I know the struggle... a lot of artists in New York even to be part of the equity it's hard. I have friends who have been there 5 years and they've been doing a lot of stuff and they haven't had the chance, and I did. So I'm very grateful about that. During the process of the tour, I told you I started as ensemble, cover for Emilio, I basically covered all the male parts in the show... two months ago I just got promoted to play her dad. That's another kind of a big thing. In my case, I already covered him, but it wasn't an official thing. He's basically one of the principals in the show, too. They decided I think, Eddie, you can do it. They sent the videos, and I shaved, and I did everything, and she said yes. So since two months ago I've been playing her dad doing scenes with Alma Cuervo, the original grandmother, and Nancy Ticotin. They're like the veterans of the show. It's been a nice way to learn a lot of stuff, too. In Puerto Rico the theatre business is basically the same thing, but at the same time when you get to the U.S., it's another rule when you're officially equity. With them, it's a nice way to learn all the steps, and learn it in a nice way.

How's it been being on tour and getting to see different parts of the United States?
It's been amazing. I used to travel with the other company, with Gíbaro de Puerto Rico, the one that I started dancing, but we used to travel more to Europe... Spain, Turkey, Romania... we went to Mexico. But, in the U.S. I never went to different states. Most of the time it was New York or Florida, one time Texas. But, being on this tour has been amazing because we can see a lot of the country and how beautiful it is. Sometimes we're in cold places, sometimes we're in warm places. Right now we're in Arizona. For me, I love the sun. For an island boy I can be white, but I need the sun and I don't like a lot of the snow or cold. Being on the road has its ups and downs especially when you miss home and you want to sometimes just settle down and don't be all over the place. Right now we're traveling every week to different cities. At the same times it's just a mind set of this is a chapter. Of course sometimes you want something specific, but you re-set you mind and it's like no you're working, you're doing a job you like, you get paid doing what you love. It's just a mind set to enjoy the ride day by day instead of just thinking only what's in the future. Of course we also sometimes have to record auditions and be ahead of what we're gonna do next. But, in my case, the way that it's been with my journey, I just prefer to be grateful and day by day and when we get closer to that date when we have to end this process, then I start thinking of other stuff. And, saving money, because when I go to New York you spend a lot of money there on rent and everything. That's part of it. But, it's been amazing. It's been amazing to see different parts of the country.

To wrap us up here, I'd love to hear about some of your favorite moments in the show that we can look forward to.
Of course "Conga." I can pick the two endings of the Acts. The first Act we finish with "Conga," and the second Act we finish with the "Mega Mix." It's a moment that makes everyone loosen up. Not only us on stage, but the audience, too. They can dance, they can do the conga with us. And then in the "Mega Mix," we can be very tired especially after two show days, but when we hit the "Mega Mix," we all get energized and try to connect with everyone in the audience and get on their feet and start dancing. It's amazing. I think those are my favorite parts, the way we can connect more with them. That's in a high way. But, I remember when I watched the show for the first time on Broadway, that scene of the dad, the song that I'm singing now, and I don't tell you this because I'm the one performing that now, but in that moment when I saw it on Broadway, it's a moment that actually makes you cry or miss a person that you lost or someone who passed away and you miss them. In that moment a lot of people can cry, and when I saw it on Broadway it affected me in so many ways, and it's so beautiful and tender, and right now to be the one performing that. And, Eliseo Román who played him on Broadway, on his Instagram or Messenger, I had to share with him that I'm doing this and I saw him, and it's like a full circle... a person that I admire and now I'm doing this, and playing Gloria's dad. It's been great. I didn't say this in the audition for the dad, but he's supposed to be like 40 years old, but they cast that, and I have 30. I'm kind of tall and everything, but I was kind of scared because maybe I don't have the age range they wanted, but knowing that she loves what she saw in the video of the song from me means a lot. Even when I met them in Los Angeles, they talked about my voice and how I performed, and in that moment that was with other stuff and other tracks. It's amazing because they do really care about the show, and they very specifically know what they want with each and every part. It's not about money, it's not about fame, it's not about the show and a group of people... no, they take care of every one of us.

I, for one, am SO excited to see this show and can't wait to dance along to "Conga" and the "Mega Mix." Come experience this fantastic music, and hear an inspiring story of people who have passion for music and overcame so many obstacles to reach their dreams. It's something we can all related to on a human level, and I have no doubt it's going to be great!

The show opens November 27, 2018 at the Saenger Theatre, and runs through Sunday, December 2. Visit http://www.saengernola.com for tickets and more information

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From This Author Heidi Scheuermann

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