Theater Review: ON YOUR FEET (National Tour)

Post image for Theater Review: ON YOUR FEET (National Tour)

by Tony Frankel on July 11, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


As jukebox musicals go, the rags-to-riches bio On Your Feet! definitely earns its exclamation point. No question, the upbeat tunes, with their irresistible Cuban-fusion street beat, would justify this 2015 tribute to the flashdance fervor of Gloria and Emilio Estefan and their Miami Sound Machine. But their lives warrant a work too: Alexander Dinelaris’s predictable and mechanical but funny and efficient book chronicles the making of the music, the adversity over which it soared, and the heritage it drew from and enlarged. As the exuberant dancing detonates across the Hollywood Pantages stage, “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” indeed.

Chronicling the birth of a new pulse in the pop heartbeat — from the 70s through Gloria’s wondrous comeback in 1991 at the American Music Awards — this 150-minute retrospective is, like its title, anchored in choreographer Sergio Trujillo’s dances — literally in the aisles as the first-act finale swells with the infectious “Conga.” And there’s the now-obligatory “megamix” curtain call to swell a standing ovation and bust an audience’s moves. (On opening night in L.A., the real-life Estefans and their grandson joined the festivities on stage after the show.) Most exciting was youngster Carlos Carreras (alternating with Jordan Vergara), whose nimble rhythmic grinding in a number of roles — including a move-busting Bar Mitzvah boy — electrified the house as much as Kenneth Posner’s rock concert lighting. Resistance is futile.

Along the way to superstardom we meet the forces behind the phenom. There’s Gloria’s mother Gloria Fajardo (Nancy Ticotin), who fled Batista’s Cuba, never achieving the fame her daughter would. Resentful of fickle showbiz and the father who prevented her from becoming the Spanish voice for Shirley Temple, she wants Gloria to be a psychologist. From her Vietnam-veteran dad José (Jason Martinez), afflicted with MS, Gloria just gets unconditional gratitude. Tensile support comes from Gloria’s loyal sister Rebecca (Claudia Yanez) and, above all, from her ardent abuela Consuel0 (delightful Debra Cardona, playing up the show’s musical-comedy aspects).

Then, of course, there’s her once and future Emilio (Mauricio Martínez, whose larger-than-life thighs mirror his performance), the consummate Latin lover and crooner whose dreams set on fire a young songwriter from Little Havana. Finally and formidably, Gloria (enthralling and indefatigable Christie Prades) is bursting to sing the tunes she hears in her head. She transforms Emilio’s Miami Latin Boys into a chart-busting sensation.

That means finding the right “Goldilocks” compromise between not too Spanish and not too English (“rice and beans plus hamburger”), then selling the rich mix to record producer Phil (Devon Goffman) who at first proclaims that no “cross-over” is possible. Somehow Gloria must also cope with her envious mother’s reluctance to accept Emilio as more than a user and her guilt-giving accusations that Gloria neglects the family.

It also means exhausting rehearsals from a perfectionist Emilio who wants everything “95% better,” a dogged promotional campaign in south Florida and beyond, then endless touring, including a world whirlwind that spreads the joy like manna. But the endless concerts also challenge the Estefans’ partnership/marriage and push their luck.

No spoiler alert here, but disaster happens when, during a snowstorm outside Syracuse, a truck hits the tour bus. Gloria, who breaks her back, may not walk again. Halted by this setback, the music-makers must now take stock of their souls (the searing duet “If I Never Got to Tell You” and his anguished “Don’t Want to Lose You Now”). In a lovely dream ballet, she reprises her life (Ana-Sofia Rodriguez, alternating with Carmen Sanchez, plays Little Gloria) then discovers from thousands of fan letters how much she’ll be missed if she can’t rally to recovery. She does, beautifully, in the redemptive closer “Coming Out of the Dark.” (Although, oddly enough, the generic ballads seem to slow down the show.) Though our story ends 27 years ago, and her career still flourishes, Jerry Mitchell’s generous staging feels complete.

Fresh and fabulous, thanks to music director Clay Ostwald and his ten-man band — which includes with Ostwald four Miami Sound Machine members — hits like “1-2-3,” “Get On Your Feet,” “Mi Tierra,” and “Reach” could raise the dead and explode the living — if not your eardrums. While the show would work better in a smaller house — you know, 1,000 seats instead of 2,700 — every member of the touring company is infallibly right for their roles, notes and steps.

photos by Matthew Murphy
curtain call photo by Chelsea Lauren

On Your Feet
national tour
ends at Hollywood Pantages Theatre on July 29, 2018
for tickets, call 800.982.2787 or visit Pantages

tour continues into 2019
for dates and cities, visit On Your Feet

Comments on this entry are closed.