Story: Young Gloria Fajardo enjoys writing music and playing the guitar while she pursues a degree in psychology. Her mother, also named Gloria, wants her daughter to have a career and do better for herself than living in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami as she does now with her mother, sister, grandmother and father, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.
One day grandmother Consuelo introduces her granddaughter to Emilio Estefan and his local band, the Miami Latin Boys. Emilio is intrigued by Gloria’s talents to the extent that he offers her a place in his group. Although Gloria’s mother insists that she avoid the allure of performing, Gloria joins Emilio’s ensemble, which eventually becomes known as the Miami Sound Machine.
As their careers soar, Gloria and Emilio fall in love and are married. After achieving considerable success in the Latin music market, they ask their music executive Phil to introduce them to the wider pop music audience with songs they have written in English. Phil adamantly refuses, telling them to enjoy what they have and of the even bigger plans he has for them to dominate the Latin followers.
Emilio and Gloria persist, however, taking small gigs where they can perform their English tunes as well as their Spanish-language hits. When Phil sees how popular the Miami Sound Machine is with other demographics, he changes his mind and helps propel the Estefans to greater success.
That success comes at a price. Gloria is estranged from her mother, learning from her grandmother that the elder Gloria in her youth was offered a contract for a career in Hollywood but was prevented from doing so by her father. While Gloria, Emilio, their son Nayib and the band travel by bus to a performance, they are involved in an accident which leaves Gloria badly injured.
Physicians recommend a risky and lengthy surgery to repair Gloria’s back. Even after surgery, they warn that she faces a considerable rehabilitation before she can even think about resuming her career. Despite that, Emilio accepts an invitation for Gloria and the group to appear at a national music awards telecast, giving Gloria a goal to achieve on her road to recovery.
Highlights: The infectious, feel-good tunes of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine fill this jukebox musical with an energy that, coupled with the story of their rise to stardom and recovery from near tragedy, makes for an evening of delightful songs and vibrant dancing.
Other Info: On Your Feet! opened on Broadway in 2015 and closed in August after 780 performances. Its first national tour began in September and includes a two-week run at The Fox Theatre in St. Louis, which continues through November 19.
Like any good jukebox musical, On Your Feet! is filled with recognizable, popular songs, in this case made famous by the swaying sounds of the brass-infused orchestra directed on this tour by Clay Ostwald.
Several members of the Miami Sound Machine, which is musically directed by Jorge Casas, are involved in the touring production, including MSM’s assistant musical director Ostwald at the keyboards, as well as Casas on bass, trombonist Theodore Mulet and percussionist Edward Bonilla. Associate music director Emmanuel Schvartzman on keyboards, trumpeter Jose Ruiz, Michael Scaglione on reeds, guitarist Stephen Flakus, percussionist Jean-Christophe Leroy and drummer Coin Taylor complete the touring band.
Cuban-American actress Christie Prades delivers a spirited performance in the role of Gloria Estefan, who is the winner of seven Grammy Awards. Prades has an easy chemistry with Mauricio Martinez, who is engaging and likable in the role of the 19-time Grammy Award-winning Emilio Estefan.
The two-act show is filled with familiar tunes from the Estefan/Miami Sound Machine canon, such as the dazzling first-act finale, Conga, as well as other well-known songs including 1-2-3, Anything for You, Don’t Wanna Lose You, Rhythm Is Gonna Get You and nearly two dozen more.
Nancy Ticotin displays ample moves herself as Gloria’s frustrated mother, Gloria Fajardo, who was held back from reaching her own dreams. Alma Cuervo delights the audience as Gloria’s supportive grandmother Consuelo, while Claudia Yanez portrays Gloria’s sister Rebecca. Jason Martinez delivers a strong performance as Gloria’s incapacitated Vietnam veteran father, Jose.
Kevin Tellex and Jordan Vergara take turns in the crowd-pleasing role of energetic and loose-limbed Nayib, while Amaris Sanchez and Carmen Sanchez nicely rotate in the role of Gloria as a young girl. Devon Goffman does well as the Estefan’s music producer, Phil.
Alexander Dinaris wrote the book for this lively show, with music by Emilio & Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine. Jerry Mitchell’s direction is fluid and well-paced, bringing the story in under two and a half hours, and benefits immensely from the crackling choreography presented by Sergio Trujillo, which maintains a jaunty style throughout.
Emilio Sosa’s costumes are bright and bedazzling, David Rockwell furnishes a set which fluctuates from a modest home in Little Havana to the bright lights of Las Vegas, all effectively lit by Kenneth Posner and enhanced with Darrel Maloney’s projection design.
With its irresistible melodies and intoxicating sound, On Your Feet! is as much a description of the audience’s enthusiasm as a fitting salute to the irrepressible music and spirit of the Estefans and Miami Sound Machine.
Musical: On Your Feet!
Group: Touring Company
Venue: Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand
Dates: Through November 19
Tickets: From $35-$115; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Matthew Murphy