Writer: Alexander Dinelaris
Music: Gloria Estefan, Emilio Estefan and Miami Sound Machine
Director: Jerry Mitchell
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Popular music is fertile ground for drama. Staple features of the music scene include individuals with immense talents and bigger egos exposed to unscrupulous management and the temptations of drugs and depravity. However, Gloria and Emilio Estefan make a happily married couple who do not allow their son to watch their shows unless he does his homework. Therefore, On Your Feet!, a musical about their lives and careers may lack the vital elements of conflict and drama.
Gloria (Philippa Stefani) is a dedicated student who cares for her ailing father and younger sister. Emilio (George Ioannides) is so impressed by Gloria’s musical talents he changes the composition of his all-male band to include her as singer. However, the couple have many obstacles to overcome as the record industry refuses to take seriously the possibility Latin rhythms could appeal to a mainstream audience. Just as Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine are on the verge of achieving their ambitions, a collision with their touring bus leaves Gloria in danger of never walking again.
Author Alexander Dinelaris portrays Gloria and Emilio Estefan as extremely well balanced individuals not in the least affected by fame and fortune. As a result, any tension has to come from outside of them rather from flaws in character. Unfortunately, such external pressures are not very interesting; Emilio’s struggles with philistine record executives who fail to recognise the quality of the band’s music absorb a fair proportion of the show. At one point Gloria drowns out his ranting by bursting into song, which is something of a relief. There is little tension in the fractured relationship between Gloria and her mother as we are all confident the conflict will be resolved amiably. An attempt to suggest Gloria blames her husband’s relentless ambition for putting her in danger in the bus crash is half-hearted and goes nowhere.
Philippa Stefani gives a terrific performance with astonishing vocals and captures the relentless enthusiasm and determination of Gloria Estefan. If anything, however, On Your Feet! minimises the achievements of Gloria Estefan who merged dance into music performance before Madonna. Paul Simon and Ry Cooder are regarded as cultural ambassadors for widening the appeal of African and Cuban music but Estefan got there first with her Latin rhythms. Curiously, the musical does not mention the remarkable achievement of a woman dominating the ridiculously Macho Cuban music scene.
On Your Feet! is a jukebox musical with songs written before the show was conceived which limits the extent to which they can be used to move along the plot. Director Jerry Mitchell, perhaps to compensate for the inherent lack of drama, aims to re-create the raw excitement of a live music gig. The show opens with spotlights raking through the theatre and Act One concludes with the audience congaing down the aisles. Chunks of the second Act are simply re-creations of Estefan’s live shows. The sensuous and lightning-fast chorography of Sergio Trujillo is, therefore, a vital element in the success of the show. The dance moves, featuring the full ensemble in breath-taking motion, are red-hot and incredibly exciting proving why the music of Gloria and Emilio Estefan is so irresistible.
Audiences have to accept that any excitement in On Your Feet! comes from the music and dancing rather than the thin storyline. However, if you are a fan of Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine that will be cause for celebration rather than complaint.
Runs until 2 November 2019 | Image: Johann Persson