BWW Review: ON YOUR FEET!, London Coliseum
On Your Feet! weaves the songs of Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine into the 'coming up' story of the Cuban-American artist. Starting in Miami, the home of Gloria's family, the musical is a whistle-stop tour through her musical ascension, the toll her fame took on her family, and the accident that almost ended her career.There are more than enough milestones in Estefan's life to fuel a book-driven musical, but there's something missing that halts On Your Feet! from being a showstopper.
In a speech at the end of the Gala show, real-life Emilio said that it's "a show about dreams". It is, but in its attempt to inspire feels a bit hokey and superficial. The love story between Gloria and Emilio, her manager, for example, feels a bit under-cooked.
On the one hand, it's a fresh insight into the dynamics of a musical couple. As Gloria's star rises as a frontwoman, the book veers away from the common representation of a woman's success as an eclipsing, emasculating force (à la A Star is Born). Christie Prades is a vivacious lead as Gloria, with a superb voice, and she embodies Estefan's humorous, animated stage presence without straying into an outright impersonation. This depth of character just doesn't seem to fully reach the heart of show's love story.
The music stays true to the living legacy of Estefan: the band are vibrant, and the cast collectively capture the special, lively energy of her music. Sometimes songs are all too brief, and the rhythm gets you before it's stolen away. Thank heavens, though, "Conga" is given its rightful share of stage time at the close Act One. The spirited group salsa makes its way into the audience in the stalls. Having the song in your head for a few days is a small price to pay for the fun you'll have!
The second act is, naturally, more subdued, as it touches on the artist's exhaustion after living on the road for years and the gruelling recovery Estefan had to make after injuring her spine in a tour-bus crash in 1990. Slower hits such as "Don't Wanna Lose You Now" are elegantly threaded through the scenes, aptly befitting the emotional aftermath of the accident.
Darrel Maloney's projections provide much of the setting in Jerry Mitchell's production: there to transport you to Cuba, to Miami, to a crowded bar. The images are striking and vivid, but sometimes hold back the atmosphere. The most exciting parts of the show are where other elements are brought in - neon signs, a fairy-lit tree set against the haze of the purple-orange Miami sunset - which help to create the world of the show and stop the ensemble from being swallowed whole by the vast Coliseum stage.
The band are initially front-and-centre when the house lights go down, but are closed away at the back of the stage for the majority of the show. Estefan's band are heart of the music and the back of the stage sometimes felt like the wrong place for them.
If the show had as much heart as it has rhythm, it would be a winner. But all in all, despite its issues, the music will get your toes tapping and On Your Feet! is a fun night out.
Photo credit: Johan Persson