By Jane Recker
Hamilton is a life-changing musical, fully deserving 10 of its 11 Tonys. The one it won wrongfully: Best Choreography.
Sergio Trujillo’s dance numbers in On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical made the competition pale in comparison then, and are the driving force of the national tour production now. With Cuban dance and the music of The Miami Sound Machine at its core, On Your Feet! tells the heartwarming story of the life, romance and professional success of the Estefan family.
Born in Miami to parents who fled Cuba, Gloria Fajardo always had a song in her heart. As she grew, her abuela encouraged her to explore her talent, and Gloria was quickly enlisted by Emilio Estefan and his Miami Sound Machine. As the group fought and battled their way to top the charts, Gloria and Emilio grew closer, eventually marrying and raising a son. Tragedy struck when Gloria was nearly paralyzed in a bus crash, (it’s not a spoiler if it happened in real life) but she worked tirelessly to recover and made her return at the American Music Awards.
All the songs from the show are Estefan’s, and have that signature disco/Latin sound that made her one of the most successful female artists of all time. Such a sound almost requires dancing for the full artistry to be realized. And is there dancing! From a classic Cuban salsa in Havana to a modern rendition in Las Vegas – complete with Kevin Tellez as a fast-footed bar mitzvah boy – there’s a constant dazzling energy onstage that keeps the show feeling lively and fast paced.
That’s not so say that the show is pure spectacle. Woven between the dance numbers is the story of two children of immigrants who topped the charts and fell in love along the way. Christie Prades has a nice turn as Gloria, expertly navigating the subtle transition from mousy Miami girl to confident international superstar. It’s Mauricio Martínez as Emilio who truly shines in this production (and not just because of his first entrance in a rather titillating pair of very short, very white shorts). Underneath all his sexy machismo and swagger, Emilio is very tender and emotionally vulnerable – exposed to the audience through a series of aching duets and solos executed by Martínez’s wonderfully warbling voice. There’s charged chemistry between the two; the first kiss almost warrants someone to shout out, “Finally!”
There are laughs to be had as well. Debra Cardona steals the show with her turn as the comic relief role of Consuelo, playing the naughty grandparent we all wish we had and aspire to be. The show also touches on the themes of discrimination that, unfortunately, are all too applicable today. A well-delivered line from Emilio explains that, though he is originally from Cuba, his face is what an American looks like. This affirmation of the United States as a melting pot country of immigrants elicits a well-deserved round of applause from the audience.
At its core, On Your Feet is about the music of Gloria Estefan. What better way to re-live her greatest hits than through a concert? David Rockwell’s spare set design and Kenneth Posner’s technicolor, audience-panning lighting design co-mingle to transport the audience of the Cadillac Theatre to a sold-out Gloria Estefan show. Complete with a live band onstage and plenty of backup dancers, the set-up had the audience on their feet (pun very much intended) and clapping along to the conga by the end of the show.
Broadway in Chicago presents “On Your Feet! The Emilio and Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical” through April 8 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.