On Your Feet! – Milton Keynes Theatre

Reviewer: Maggie Constable

Writer: Alexander Dinelaris

Music: Gloria Estefan, Emilio Estefan and Miami Sound Machine

Director: Jerry Mitchell

How could you not be up and dancing at Milton Keynes Theatre this week where the appropriately named On Your Feet! is being staged? With songs like Get On Your Feet, Rhythm Is Gonna Get You and Don’t Want To Lose You Now, it would be a challenge. The show has come from a very successful stay in London’s West End and is now touring the U.K

This is the real-life story of Gloria Estefan who started life in Havana, Cuba but whose family, the Fajardos, was compelled to make a fast exit from the island after Fidel Castro became President in 1959. They landed in Miami where Gloria’s mother took up work as a teacher and Gloria effectively become mum to her younger sibling, Rebecca. And so were sown the seeds of Gloria wanting to live The American Dream.

This is also the tale of an enduring love between Gloria and Emilio Estefan whom she met when she was just 17, the latter a local musician and founder of the group Miami Sound Machine (initially The Miami Latin Boys) and later Gloria’s producer. The Estefans have worked together and been espoused for over 40 years now. Their journey to fame and fortune clearly, if lengthily, portrayed here has had its ups and downs, including the awful coach accident which left Gloria totally debilitated for some time. However, their very accessible blend of Latin rhythms with American disco beats brought them immense success. They were amongst the first to bring Cuban music to the U.S. and to mix it with pop, a clever recipe, even if at first record companies and clubs were unsure about the sound. Indeed, the show tackles the difficult reactions that the couple often faced and the inherent racism.

Francesca Lara Gordon, replacing Philippa Stefani, as Gloria Estefan this evening, does not seem to put a foot wrong, although at times her excellent vocals lack power. Emilio Estefan is played by George Ioannides, who has real charisma and a strong and melodic voice. He is very convincing in the role. Madalena Alberto brings us Gloria Fajardo, the stressed, stubborn and demanding matriarch, with conviction. Her duet with her son-in-law is wonderfully harmonious. Karen Mann’s Abuela Consuelo is utterly believable and often very funny. She is the person who really believes in and encourages Gloria, along with Emilio. A superb Cuban grandmother figure, a fact recognised by the audience in the loud and long applause for her. The ensemble cast does a great job, most particularly in the skilled and energetic dancing. Sergio Trujillo, the award-winning choreographer, has definitely delivered the goods with his dynamic Latin and disco moves. The show must owe much of its success to his choreography.

Some first-night technical hitches, including with lighting, mar the overall effect of the show but cannot stop anyone enjoying the enthusiasm of all the performers and the fantastic songs. At the end, many audience members are on their feet singing and dancing along. A very upbeat evening’s entertainment.

Runs until 15 February 2020

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Fusion Fun

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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