Updated: Oct 16
Experience this inspiring story of a Latin musical family whose humble beginnings traversed seemingly impossible odds to claim global superstardom, cementing their place in music history.
OCTOBER 8, 2023—LA MIRADA, CA
The recipe may be familiar, but the flavor is deliciously fresh in “On Your Feet!” the half-formulaic, half-original and undeniably crowd-pleasing musical about the lives of Emilio and Gloria Estefan that opened Saturday night at La Mirada Theatre.
The musical, which continues through October 29th, and stars a vibrant Gaby Albo as Ms. Estefan along with a commanding Samuel Garnica as her husband and musical collaborator, neatly showcases the boppy dance-floor hits and swoony ballads that made Ms. Estefan and the band Miami Sound Machine a radio and MTV staple in the 1980s. Moving through its rags-to-riches paces in a rigid percussive beat, “On Your Feet!” makes a hefty impression inside the pack of jukebox musicals that have plugged in to Broadway’s power strip.
Like the Carole King musical, “Beautiful,” albeit with a built-in audience of a different generation, “On Your Feet!” offers a music-business bio-drama laced with hurdles, and a score stuffed with familiar songs, like “Conga,” “Don’t Wanna Lose You” and “Get On Your Feet.” But it also depicts the struggles of assimilation with its Cuban-American characters with honesty, albeit occasional shorthand.
And, it’s no spoiler to say that the show includes the accident that threatened Ms. Estefan’s life and might have even ended her career. Fans of hers will recall that 1990 incident, which darkens the second act and brings some gravity to this mostly flashy, salsa-splashed show.
We meet the young Gloria (a terrific Sophia Yacap) in Miami, where she and her parents moved after the Cuban revolution. Singing improvised compositions and strumming her guitar, she listens to encouraging words recorded on a tape by her father, José (Max Cervantes), who is away fighting in Vietnam: “You’re a born artist, my angel. And one day you’re going to be a big star!”
Once back from the war, José develops multiple sclerosis, and one of the musical’s most affecting scenes finds Gloria confessing her love for Emilio to her father, who’s unable to speak. As Gloria’s mother, Kristen Tarrago gives a vivacious, tart performance as a sort of anti-Momma Rose, whose disapproval of Gloria’s ambitions stems partly from envy. Her father quashed her chance early in life to become the Spanish voice of Shirley Temple. At the same time, Gloria’s grandmother, or abuela, played with endearing warmth by Adela Romero, furtively supports Gloria’s burgeoning career and encourages her to pursue any opportunity she can.
In no time flat, 17-year-old Gloria meets her future husband, the dashing Emilio (Samuel Garnica). And after auditioning for him with the very beautiful “Anything for You,” she soon becomes the showcase singer-songwriter in his band, the Miami Latin Boys — appropriately re-christened the Miami Sound Machine. But after the band has begun to climb the charts in Latin markets, she meets record executive Phil (played by Jake Dylan), who undervalues and downplays their dreams of recording their songs in English.
Ms. Albo dazzles with a timbre similar to Ms. Estefan’s and gives a feisty and endearing performance that blossoms emotionally when Gloria’s accident sidelines her career, and she and Emilio come into conflict over her comeback plans. Mr. Garnica brings a forceful magnetism and swarthy good looks to his performance, and there’s no lack of zest in the musical, which has been directed with button-pushing professionalism by Mr. Salgado. It rarely misses an opportunity to flaunt its allurements, including a lively cadre of dancers and lovely sets by Clifton Chadick that evoke Miami and the old Havana gracefully.
Throughout the musical, book writer Andrew Dinelaris oscillates oddly between showbiz clichés and intimately observed scenes of family life. Such rote dialogue comes as a jarring surprise, given Mr. Dinelaris shared an Oscar for the screenplay of “Birdman” (Other impressive stage credits: the musical “The Bodyguard” and “Red Dog Howls”).
Dinelaris’ book may only skim the surface of Estefan’s life, but there’s a lot of life to skim. Following a rousing production number (“Rhythm Is Gonna Get You”– what else?) to open the show on a high note, flashback scenes set in Miami quickly establish A) young Gloria’s phenomenal voice, B) her devotion to her father and touchy relationship with her mother, and C) the joyous Latin spirit of the show, expressed in the rousing “Tradicion.”
Plot-wise, the big breakthrough comes when Gloria identifies the Latin pop crossover sound she wants — the classical salsa rhythms of Cuban comparsas, with “a funk baseline and a strong back beat on the drums and all the lyrics in English.” And structurally, the show builds to the full flowering of this Cuban-fusion sound, song after familiar song from the Estefan canon, mounted in full production numbers for Ms. Albo’s dynamic voice, backed up by a robust singing-and-dancing chorus.
If you like salsa, “On Your Feet!” roars through vibrant up-tempo dance numbers, featuring brilliant choreography with swirling skirts and swiveling hips by Luis Salgado. When you begin to hear that strong Latin Hustle and can feel the romance in the air, when you get lost in the lyrics and feel that energy exchange — very much like a double espresso shot — then you know you can’t help yourself. You’ve got to get up and dance.
LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS & MCCOY RIGBY ENTERTAINMENT, Presents, ON YOUR FEET! THE STORY OF EMILIO & GLORIA ESTEFAN; A Book by ALEXANDER DINELARIS; Featuring Music Produced & Recorded by EMILIO & GLORIA ESTEFAN & MIAMI SOUND MACHINE; Directed & Choreographed by LUIS SALGADO; Scenic Design by CLIFTON CHADICK; Costume Design by JEANNETTE CHRISTENSEN; Lighting Design by RYAN J. O’GARA; Sound Design by DIEGO GARZON; Projection Design by PATRICK W. LORD; Prop Design by EMMAROSE CAMPBELL; Hair & Wig Design by BOBBIE ZLOTNIK; Music Direction by DANIEL GUTIERREZ; Music Supervision by CLAY OSTWALD; Arrangements by LON HOYT; Orchestrations by GLORIA ESTEFAN & EMILIO ESTEFAN; Additional Orchestrations by JORGE CASAS, CLAY OSTWALD & OSCAR HERNANDEZ; Production Stage Manager JASMIN HOLTON.
STARRING: GABY ALBO, SAMUEL GARNICA, KRISTEN TARRAGO, MAX CERVANTES, ADELA ROMERO, EMMA HEISTAND, SOPHIA YACAP, JAVIER IVAN, JAKE DYLAN, CAMILA ALDET, MIGUEL FLORES, MADELIN MARCHANT, BRIAN MARQUEZ, SARA MCGUIRE, MARIA MORERAS, RALPHIE RIVERA DE JESUS, KHI’SHAWN ROBINSON, ANGELLIZ M. ROSADO RAMOS, MATTHEW RIVERA, MAYA SANTIAGO, CAMI TALEISNIK, GLENDALIRIS TORRES-GREAUX, JOSUE TORRES ORTIZ, SEBASTIAN TREVINO, BERNIE BALBUENA.
ON YOUR FEET! THE STORY OF EMILIO & GLORIA ESTEFAN is being presented at LA MIRADA THEATRE from October 6—October 29 with Performances on Thursdays at 7:30PM, Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 2PM & 8PM and Sundays at 1:30PM & 6:30PM. An Open-Captioned Performance will be Saturday, October 21 at 2PM. 14900 La Mirada Blvd in La Mirada. Ticket prices range from $19-85. For Ticket Reservations, see www.lamiradatheatre.com
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
PHOTO CREDITS: Jason Niedle