BWW Review: ON YOUR FEET! Comes to Kennedy Center
Over the past decade or two, there have been multiple Broadway musicals featuring existing songs from well-known pop music acts. They tend to fall into two categories: "biographical" musicals (e.g. Jersey Boys and Beautiful) and those that feature a fictional plot "fit" around the songs (e.g. Mamma Mia). On Your Feet!: The Emilio and Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical, currently playing the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, is one of the latest examples of the former category. Directed by Jerry Mitchell, it's a pretty good one too.
While Alexander Dinelaris' book is a little schmaltzy and corny at times for my taste, it does adequately convey the uniqueness of the Estefan's story - at least within American pop culture. The powerful recollections of how their parents left Cuba (with their children) for Miami and the depictions of the personal and professional obstacles they had to overcome as a result of their ethnic heritage were the most interesting to me. They set this musical apart from the ones that follow the standard "rise to fame and then we screwed up" storyline.
While the story is hugely personal, it also has the potential to speak to today's American audiences, especially in our current sociopolitical climate. Gloria Fajardo (Gloria's mother, well played by Nancy Ticotin) has a raw and real moment in a flashback scene when she sings her last song in Cuba ("Cuando Salí de Cuba"). Emilio (Mauricio Martinez) gives an incredible, and still very relevant, speech on what it means to be an American to an ignorant record label executive. Cultural content aside, one can't help to also be even a little bit moved by Gloria's (Christie Prades) efforts - with Emilio by her side - to make a comeback following what could have been a career or even life-ending accident. The bus accident and her recovery are the major focus of Act Two.
While Christie Prades is not quite as powerful and charismatic of a singer as Ana Villafañe who originated the role of Gloria on Broadway, she still is quite accomplished. Her excellent chemistry with Mauricio Martinez - who is a much more consistent and expressive singer and actor than Josh Segarra who originated the role on Broadway - goes a long way to help the audience become invested and believe in not only their romantic journey, but their relationship during and following the difficult times.
While not all of the musical numbers move the story along (the placement of "Reach," let's face it, is a little bit expected and not particularly artistically satisfying), many of them are well-placed. Each song is either emotional, super fun, or a little bit of both. All are exceptionally well performed by a stellar cast right down to their energetic ensemble of triple threats, many of whom appeared in the show on Broadway.
The committed cast and catchy musical numbers, coupled with strong technical and design work (most notably Sergio Trujillo's fitting choreography, Emilio Sosa's eye-catching costumes, and Kenneth Posner's varied lighting design) and stellar musicianship from Musical Director Clay Ostwald's orchestra ensure an entertaining night out at theater. It's not life changing, but it is fun - and sometimes that's all you need.
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes, including one intermission
ON YOUR FEET! plays The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts - 2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC - through January 28, 2018. For tickets, call the box office at 202-467-4600 or purchase them online at http://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/event/TSTSD.