Performing Arts: Theater
November 20, 2015
Ah, Cuba, the land of sun and music. Luscious island light by Anthony Pearson bathes the opening scenes of the musical “On Your Feet.” An infectious mambo beat boils under Gloria and Emiilio Estefan’s Sound Machine riffs in the hip-swinging musical disarmingly directed Jerry Mitchell and animated by Sergio Trujuilio’ choreography.

“On Your Feet,” a grand tribute to the Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s power-couple rise to stardom draws on intricate, immigrant family dynamics, uncanny business moxie and determination.

The early scenes are bathed in a bright Cuban summer light by Anthony Pearson, underlining David Rockwell’s lush vegetation and Esosa’s vivid costumes. Opening on the unrest in Cuba circa 1959, Batista’s dictatorship is overthrown by the popular Castro. That signals the exodus of many elite Batista loyalists including Gloria Estefan’s family.

One of thousands of displaced Cubans in Miami; Gloria consoles herself by singing songs recorded by her father (who’s fighting in the Viet Nam War) while preparing for college. Early on, Emilio Estefan (Josh Segarra) spots Gloria and sets his cap for her. Already in the music industry, he convinces her to sing and write songs for the Miami Latin Boys.

Embittered by crushed dreams, Gloria’s mother, a riveting Andrea Burns, remains antagonistic to her daughter’s career, and takes years before finally embracing Gloria. In contrast, Gloria’s dreams of success and happiness are embraced by her father and her wry, lovable grandmother (Alma Cuervo).

In the course of their ascent - and like so many artists before them - music executives try to water down the original, authentic sound, but Ernesto will have none of it. Completely charming and a mighty fine dancer, Emilio snares control over the Estefan songbook and becomes a commanding music producer.

This hard-driving musical pulls much of its velocity from the music and sensational Ana Villafne as Gloria Estefan. Ms. Villafne both looks and sounds like the star, deepening her role with genuine thoughtfulness.

Music embellishes the book by Alexander Dinelaris, and Mitchell’s unstoppable action keeps percolating when the mega – hit “Conga” overcomes the audience and act two peaks at the first strums of “Get On Your Feet.” And happily, Trujillo cast a dynamic core of male dancers who dig into the ground, hips fulid, chests out and bodies delighting in mambo and salsa’s tricky rhythms.

Finally darkness marks the wild ride when Gloria, paralyzed after a road accident, leaves the spotlight. After countless, painful days of physical therapy and a constant love infusion from Emilio, she returns to howls of excitement.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

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