Book: Alexander Dinelaris
Music: Gloria Estefan, Emilio Estefan, Miami Sound Machine
Director: Jerry Mitchell
With lively songs, a beautiful romance and an indomitable presence in the record charts, against many odds the story of the unofficial king and queen of Miami, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, was always going to be ripe for turning into a popular jukebox musical.
In On Your Feet by Alex Dinelaris there’s a host of hits and a whole lot of love, but somehow there’s an underwhelming sense that this rhythm is NOT going to get you and the hot Latino soundtrack simmers rather than sizzles.
These jukebox shows are ten a penny and by now we’re used to and can cope with the watered-down biographies, the resilient star(s) and a framework of hit songs culminating in winning a major award, playing a legendary live concert, beating the system or any combination of the three.
Perhaps it’s a case of mid-tour fatigue on a Monday night (the show played London Coliseum last year before launching on a nationwide tour in September with several of the same cast) but rather disappointingly on the day before Shrove Tuesday at the New Wimbledon Theatre it was not so much a case of a colourful Mardi Gras, more a feeling of being as flat as a pancake.
The big Act One finale – the groundbreaking Conga from 1985 which became the signature number for the Estefans and the Miami Sound Machine – sees the cast jump into the auditorium in a bid to let the music move the feet of the audience. The fact that only around half a dozen joined in on press night says a lot about the evening.
It’s a real shame as On Your Feet has a great deal going for it, not least the powerful story of Gloria (a gutsy Philippa Stefani) and Emilio (George Ioannides in a somewhat underwritten role), who left their native Cuba when they were children yet fought as immigrants to live the American dream.
We’re taken through the bitterness of Gloria’s mother (a passionate Madalena Alberto), nursing the hurt that her own burgeoning music career was cut short, the sadness of her father (a strong Elia Lo Tauro, who dazzles with When Someone Comes Into Your Life) succumbing to MS and record producers only wanting the Estefans and the Miami Sound Machine to sing in Spanish rather than attempting “crossover” music.
A slow burner of a first half starts to ignite in the second with the live tour performances, and while the near fatal bus crash in 1990 and its aftermath slow things down again, there’s undeniable poignancy as Gloria and Emilio are shown to rebuild their careers with fierce determination. The 11 o’clock number Coming Out of the Dark is an anthem to battling back to success and good health with gritty perseverance.
While Sergio Trujillo’s choreography generally lights the fireworks (capturing the irresistible Latin dance rhythms), the narrative by Dinelaris often feels clunky and director Jerry Mitchell seems to have his hands tied by a script that rarely blazes. David Rockwell’s set, a series of moving flats and little in the way of furniture, doesn’t add much to the excitement.
It is down to the musicians, directed by Danny Belton, to bring an authentic passion and Miami spice to the stage with plenty of energy and verve.
It is to be hoped that the hard-working company find the wonders of Wimbledon inspire them and fire them us as the week progresses. But as the million-selling hits are thrown out you just can’t help but wish there was a lot more fizz to this fiesta.
Runs until 29 February 2020