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BWW Review: ON YOUR FEET! La Historia De Emilio Y Gloria Estefan! En Espanol! at Gala Hispanic Theatre

This fascinating real-life story of Gloria Estefan and Emilio Estefan is full of bite, vigor, and vibrating energy to touch the soul and the heart.

BWW Review: ON YOUR FEET! La Historia De Emilio Y Gloria Estefan! En Espanol! at Gala Hispanic Theatre
Gaby Albo at center and the company of Gala Hispanic Theatre's production of
On Your Feet! La Historia De Emilio Y Gloria Estefan! En Espanol!
Photo by Stan Weinstein.

On Your Feet! celebrates Cuban-American pride and the need to celebrate life during both the good times and the tough times. This fascinating real-life story of Gloria Estefan and Emilio Estefan is full of bite, vigor, and vibrating energy to touch the soul and the heart. A multicultural cast lends their voices and hearts to portray what it means to be the face of America and to strive and reach the American Dream.

The GALA Hispanic Theatre has given the DC metro region a professional and snazzy Spanish-rendered version of this popular Broadway smash. This production is presented in Spanish with English surtitles, and it moves with the intensity of a prowling lion and catches you unaware with upbeat music, choreography that is super-charged to the max and dramatic scenes of poignancy and sensitivity.

The book by Alexander Dinelaris Jr. is very solidly written and this musical of Cuban -fusion pop hit music and Emilio and Gloria Estefan's life is so much more than a jukebox musical. Every song from "Conga" to "The Rhythm is Gonna Get You" is integrated seamlessly into the storyline. (The book translation is by Esmeralda Azkarate-Gaztelu and there are new Spanish lyrics by Gloria Estefan).

Direction and choreography by Luis Salgado and Valeria Cossu have enhanced the fascinating source material of the Estefan and Fajardo family by giving the more intimate scenes as much heft as the dance numbers. A gentle and kind spirit hovers over this entire enterprise, even in the most emotional and intense scenes, and it is refreshing to see this quality in a musical.

Scenes of little Gloria (charmingly played by Kamila Rodríquez) intermingled with the adult Gloria (a stellar, captivating Gaby Albo) and were psychologically resonant and moving. The book never portrays the elder generation as stereotypes as so many current books do ---these are fully fleshed characters.

The central performances of Gaby Albo as Gloria and Samuel Garnica as Emilio are both complexly developed and nuanced in interpretation. Ms. Albo is a dynamic powerhouse when leading with the vocals in the large ensemble numbers and when singing romantically with Mr. Garnica. Ms. Albo also conveys a touching vulnerability when needed. Ms. Albo played the quicksilver transitions from dutiful young woman of the family to an independent and confident artist with ease.

Mr. Garnica has a soaring voice that "knocks it out of the park" in "Si Voy A Perderte". He also has a natural authoritative charm that works well here.

The interactions of Gloria's mother (a steely, perceptive performance by Fran Tapia) and Gloria's Grandmother, Consuelo (Madelin Marchant) with Gloria are gems of familial love and contradictions. Ms. Marchant and Ms. Tapia portray the tough love that mothers pass on to foster courage in their children. The scene where Ms. Tapia implores her child to fight on (when she is struck by tragedy) is unforgettable in its emotional power.

The concept of having the ill father of Gloria, José Fajardo (a charismatic performance by José Fernando Capellán) come to full life and sing to her to accept her new-found love is extremely moving and almost spiritual in tone ("When Someone Comes into Your Life").

Choreography by Mr. Salgado is sizzling, stylized and technically proficient throughout the production. A huge ensemble of terrific dancers exploded on the stage space and these dancers danced up a storm with verve and electric energy.

To add to the immersive feel of the production, the dancers often danced in front of the stage and up the aisles.

Choreographic highlights (some numbers were inspired by the original work and choreography of Sergio Trujillo) include "Tradiciόn" wherein the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami is show as the locale where respect for family and tradition is shown with exuberant dancing and colorful sunny tropical colors in attire (Costume Designer is Jeannette Christensen).

In the gloriously ebulliently choreographed "Conga", disparate celebrations are universally celebrated as one--- as a Bar Mitzvah, an Italian Wedding and a Shriner's Convention are coalesced in one knockout of a number.

The section of the international tour number entitled "Cuba Libre" is a "red-hot" scintillating, and empowered choreographic display of non-stop energy and intensity ---the dancers seem to be operating from a secret power supply as the energy is unflagging (once again, the vibrant costumes---this time, a lush red----are by Jeannette Christensen).

Musical Direction by Walter "Bobby" McCoy is top-notch, and he has marvelously managed and conducted a ten-piece band. The band is ingeniously perched behind a scrim or screen at the top-tier of the upstage rear backdrop wall and lit at certain transitional times in the production.

The exciting and rhythmic music by Emilio and Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine is a rich and almost inexhaustible catalogue of songs of many well-known popular hits as well as many new songs that I was excited to discover. Tender ballads, duets and large ensemble numbers come alive in this beautifully resonant and vocally thrilling production. (Sound Design by Matthew Rowe)

Lighting by Christopher Annas-Lee is appropriately pulsating and flashy in the zesty ensemble numbers and more subtle and evocative in the more intimate scenes.

Scenic Design by Clifton Chadick was a marvel of creativity. Gliding interchangeable panels were utilized for specific scenes, palm trees in the background, and an encased opening door on the backwall of the stage were all aspects of Mr. Chadick's creativity. The narrative-enriching projections/video designs of Patrick W. Lord should also be cited for their theatrical effect.

The ending numbers of the show were rousing affirmations of all that preceded, and I felt like I had come to know this amazing musical family personally. Little Gloria and Little Emilio (Winsley DeJesús) linked arms and danced out to wild applause. Bows were intermingled to sustained applause and I would recommend an extra more formal curtain call---this company of professionals has earned it!

"The Rhythm is Gonna Get You" in this knockout musical celebration of pride, family, perseverance, and success against all odds! The striving of Emilio and Gloria Estefan is relevant and applicable to anyone who has had the aspiration and dream to succeed.

Running Time: Two Hours and ten minutes with one twenty-minute intermission

On Your Feet! La Historia De Emilio Y Gloria Estefan! En Espanol! was presented on May 6, 2022 at 8pm at the GALA Hispanic Theatre located at 3333 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC. Performances are through June 5, 2022. For tickets, click here or phone: 202-234-7174.

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