The summer might be winding down, but the Segerstrom Center for the Arts is sizzling hot thanks to the dynamic Broadway musical On Your Feet! based on the inspiring story of 26-time (combined) GRAMMY® winning duo Gloria and Emilio Estefan.
It is impossible for me to recall a dance class from my childhood or every car ride home listening to KOST 103.5 in the back of my parent’s car, that wasn’t exploding with the contagious Latin sound of Gloria Estefan. Naturally, I was more than happy to revisit the music and movement that shaped my formative years as a dancer––and not to keep you in suspense––the high-octane cast and orchestra (including several of the GRAMMY® winning musicians from Miami Sound Machine) did not disappoint. Not that I’m surprised, there is a reason that Gloria Estefan is the most successful Latin crossover performer in the history of pop music.
Start a show with a seductive drumbeat and strobe lights, and you instantly have my attention. Add a seasoned band, accomplished singers and dancers, and a flashback sequence which begins backstage during one of Gloria’s concerts and morphs into a scene from her childhood, and I’m hooked. The tone was set in the first two minutes of the show and from that moment on I was immediately transported into the world of the Estefan’s.
I’m a huge fan of directors with a past in choreography, primarily because they understand how to keep a show moving with smart transitions and clean concise staging. On Your Feet! has the unmistakable mark of multiple TONY® Award winner, Jerry Mitchell in his clever way of using simple, effective sets, fabrics, and props to set a mood without distracting from the story or the performers. Scenic Designer, David Rockwell; Costume Designer, Emilio Sosa; and Lighting Designer, Kenneth Posner rounded out the cohesive vision of the show capturing the essence of each scene without overindulgence.
Likewise, veteran choreographer, Sergio Trujillo is no stranger when it comes to skillfully maneuvering a Broadway ensemble into fiery dance numbers. His work was crisp and always appropriate for each scene. Where his choreography really shined was in the Latin partner work. I especially enjoyed the inventive choreography that he used to match the unmistakable accents in the music––it was a visual echo of the rhythmic beat. Whether it was Mr. Mitchell’s direction, Mr. Trujillo’s conceptualization, or a collaboration between them––I appreciated the delineation between the group dance sequences, which were born out of the story, and possessed a layered, contagious build; and of those that conveyed the moments when Gloria was on stage performing, which harnessed the style and enthusiasm of concert back-up dancing. It’s evident in the depiction of the successful musical numbers, that the Latin duo valued family on and off the road and was instrumental in providing opportunities for countless artists.
The entire ensemble—which was loaded with energy—was equally skilled in their dance ability as they were in their vocals. The women especially shined executing Sergio’s partnering work with style and sass, while the men shared in the passion, and the lifts, which were fun, flashy, and fitting
Entering the theater, I had no doubt that I would be tapping my feet along to the familiar infectious beat. However, I did not anticipate getting sucked into the story. Usually jukebox musicals based on famous pop stars from the past rely heavily on the emotional connection an audience has with the music, but end up lacking depth and or purpose––The Boy From Oz instantly pops into my mind. Thankfully, OSCAR® and Golden Globe winner, Alexander Dinelaris delivers a book that is both engaging and heartfelt. The first act successfully establishes a clear (nonlinear) back story exposing the love, ambition, and hustle that Gloria and Emilio endured standing up to family and the music industry. In the second act, the audience is reminded of the serious tour bus accident that might have kept a less driven person forever out of the spotlight. Thankfully, Gloria fought back, reconnecting with her estranged mother and thriving in the music industry. I truly appreciate how timely the tale is. Alongside the love story of likeminded Cuban artists overcoming adversity, the musical examines the challenges that up-and-coming artists continue to face in the always-shifting music industry. More importantly, but not so subtly, I savored the commentary on immigration.
Stand out moments came from, Mauricio Martinez (Emilio) in the first act when his character stands up to a music executive. I’m paraphrasing the dialogue but the point is clear, “I’ve been in this country for 15 years. I’ve paid my taxes. You might not see it clear, but this is the face of an American. This is my home.” This line received thunderous applause from the very culturally, socially, and ethnically diverse Orange County audience, renewing my confidence in the power of musical theater as a thriving vehicle for equality and acceptance.
Additionally, Christie Prades (Gloria) carries the show with charisma and triple-threat-talent. She captured the vibrant heart and the specific sound of Gloria without become a caricature. Her strongest moment came during the second act while delivering a tearfully touching monologue to her estranged mother’s answering machine.
Debra Cardona, (Consuelo) plays Gloria’s grandmother with spunk and honesty; a role that could have very easily come off as cheesy or clichéd.
Finally, a big shout out to Jordan Vergara, (Young Emilio) who crushed the dance floor with his fancy footwork and uninhibited performance.
Thirteen members of the cast come directly from the Broadway company, although it’s nearly impossible to distinguish the old from the new in this cast of twenty-eight, because each pours their heart onto the stage, simultaneously tearing up their soles. The curtain call, born from Gloria’s “comeback performance” at the American Music Awards, evolves into a medley of popular Estefan hits sparking impromptu clusters of (mostly) women in the audience to jump up and dance along with the cast. By the end of the power-packed finale the entire audience was On Their Feet! Better still, the post show exchange I overheard in the elevator on our way to our cars, between a teenager and her mom in which the enthusiastic theater lover begs to return for a second performance, is proof that the show (and Gloria’s music) translate to a widespread audience.
I highly recommend you grab a group of friends and form a Conga line to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts to catch the First National Tour of On Your Feet! playing now through September 2, 2018.
For more information and tickets, click here.
Featured image: Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan and Company in On Your Feet – Photo: Matthew Murphy