Book: Alexander Dinelaris
Featuring Music by Emilio & Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine
Director: Jerry Mitchell
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
Well, this was a surprise…
There is no short supply of reasons to celebrate the life and achievements of Gloria Estefan, or indeed, husband Emilio. Above and beyond being ‘catchy’, Estefan’s contribution, not only to the structure of genre music but to the evolution of American music is difficult to rival. Following her career with Miami Latin Boys/Miami Sound Machine and work with eventual husband Emilio, Estefan bled the Latino passion of dance music into a mainstream audience outside of South America. When thoughts of a jukebox musical centring around her life would emerge, it raised as many eyebrows as it does hopes.
Tragically, it’s a cookie-cutter musical. This is not to say it is an overwhelmingly poor, in truth, it’s a particularly entertaining piece with stellar performances, especially on the choreography front. No, where On Your Feet! stumbles are chiefly Alexander Dinelaris’ narrative progression. It’s a whirlwind of bullet points, a musical Wikipedia entry for Estefan which takes little in artistic direction. With such a library on offer, there’s little in the way of creativity outside of colourful visuals or David Rockwell’s reserved set design.
Talent, however, there are gallons of, heaps of fiery, intense vocals, but they’re not the focus. Attempting to tell both stories of Emilio and Gloria, a portion of the production is about her future husband and bandmate. Opening act one, George Ioannides’s take on Emilio is a Lothario with a golden heart, but we don’t receive a full measure of his performance – as a great deal is spent offering exposition for Philippa Steffani’s Gloria.
If you ever wish to find out where a Latino woman gains her talents, look no further than her mother. In truth, Madalena Alberto does her job a little too well… In the dimly lit nightclub, the Cuban police on patrol, Estefan’s parents meet for the first time. It’s a sultry affair, unlike the glitz or lurid palette of the remainder of the production. It stands out, visually, and until the encore, it sits as the blazing triumph of movement, vocal and dramatic performance. We gain a glimpse at a superior narrative, a better plotline of reference – the story of Estefan’s parents to the daughter’s music library.
Encore! Encore! Encore! Rarely does the finale of a musical vastly overshadow a production such as this, a catwalk of reprisals, rapping and pinpoint choreography which was put to waste throughout the show. Alberto, once again, dominates the stage and proves, quite simply, that mother does know best. Quite rightly taking the final bow, are the live band. Centre stage throughout, the timing, tempo and beat they produce will make even the grouchiest of audiences line up for a conga or two.
On Your Feet! Is an exceptional eye-brow raiser, for all of the electrical blood fuelling expectations you likely wouldn’t expect, but also for its peculiar direction choices. And so, the rhythm continues well into the night, far from encouraging misery, On Your Feet! encourages a dip into the flares of passion, dance and rightfully showcases the life of a pair who took the attitude of no one and spread the richness of Latino performances as far as those salsa legs could carry them.
Runs until October 12th then continues touring | Image: Johan Persson