Book by Alexander Dinelaris.
Featuring music produced and recorded
by Emilio & Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine.
Directed by Jerry Mitchell.
With Ana Villafañe, Josh Segarra, Andréa Burns,
At the Oriental Theatre, Chicago
The beat goes on…”On Your Feet!”
I think my mother may have had a Gloria Estefan cassette tape that she played in the car when I was a kid. That, or the lady was just on Sesame Street a lot. Because I distinctly remember her music growing up, even though I wasn’t born until the mid ’80s, about the time Estefan and her band, the Miami Sound Machine, were peaking in popularity. So I went to On Your Feet!, now having its pre-Broadway world premiere at the Oriental Theatre, not as a “fan”, per se, but nonetheless with a nostalgia for these half-remembered songs from my childhood. And I am happy to report that the music still moves.
Under the direction of Tony Award-winner Terry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Hairspray), On Your Feet! cleverly uses the songs of Gloria Estefan to narrate her life story, with flashbacks and jump cuts like any good Hollywood biography. From the top of the show, at the height of her fame, we rewind to meet a younger Gloria (Anna Villafañe, a real ringer for the actual one in both looks and voice), a shy but obviously talented singer/songwriter. To her family’s Miami doorstep one day comes Emilio Estefan (Josh Segarra, laying on the charm), a young Latin bandleader whose goofball humor and shaky command of English only partially mask a formidable ambition and focus. Soon he’s drafted her into his band, The Miami Latin Boys, and is putting her through her paces. She bridles, but only a little. You get the sense that she had been waiting for someone to push her like this, to fill in the gaps in her confidence. And in Gloria, Emilio decides he has found the frontwoman who can take them all to the next level. And the next, and the next, and the next. Renamed the Miami Sound Machine, they of course do just that.
Any fan of Estefan and MSM could probably tell you the story themselves. It’s fairly formulaic as these musical biographies go, though with better dialogue (the book is by Oscar winner Alexander Dinelaris) than I’ve heard in several recent Broadway shows. It also lacks a sordidness, a real sex-drugs-n-rock-n-roll crawl through the gutter that made shows like VH1’s Behind The Music so compelling. Gloria and Emilio don’t even have a real argument until well into the second act. Yes, so much the better for their real-life counterparts if that’s how it went. We like to watch a trainwreck, but we wouldn’t want to be a part of one. But that means the drama is lacking in places; I wouldn’t argue that theirs is a life story that was begging to be told.
Still, one goes to a Broadway musical about Gloria Estefan for the music and the dancing, and on these two fronts On Your Feet! really delivers. Driven by a whipcrack Latin band (which includes actual members of the Miami Sound Machine), the cast brings all the attitude, passion, and fiery Caribbean fervor that you remember from the radio and that these songs require. Appropriately, the band starts (and ends) the show front and center, before rolling upstage to accomodate the action, and the great choreography by Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys). Nearly all the hits are here, including “Conga”, “1,2,3,4”, “Don’t Want To Lose You Now”, “Turn The Beat Around”, etc., as well as some deeper cuts which serve to heighten key points in the story. Which is how it should work, after all. Things go better with music. And in the case of On Your Feet!, even if the story isn’t always compelling, the music surely is.
Date Reviewed: June17, 2015
For more info checkout the On Your Feet Page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Oriental Theatre, 24 West Randolph Street. Tickets range from $33- $100 and can be purchased at any of the Broadway In Chicago box offices, by calling the Broadway In Chicago Ticketline at 800-775-2000, at all Ticketmaster outlets and online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com , through July 5, 2015