Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of The Humans
Sergio Trujillo's choreography electrifies On Your Feet!, now on tour in the Opera House at Washington's Kennedy Center. When the cast isn't dancing, the production tends to slow down.
Lovers of the songs of Gloria Estefan, her husband Emilio, and their band Miami Sound Machine will be in heaven, but as a musical On Your Feet! has a problem similar to Motown the Musical: it's difficult to dramatize the non-musical scenes. Alexander Dinelaris' book is frequently clumsy as it sets the stage ("It's a great day here in Miami," says a radio announcer, so the audience knows where the scene is taking place) or provides exposition (identifying Emilio on his first entrance with "You play music with the Miami Latin Boys").
The performance begins with bursts of light into the audience and the full orchestra on the stage, fronted by the tireless Gloria Estefan (Arianna Rosario, in for Christie Prades and doing a solid job). Soon it drifts into Gloria's memories of herself as a guitar-playing child (Carmen Sanchez or Amaris Sanchez), sending cassette tapes of her songs to her father (Jason Martínez), a Cuban émigré by then serving in Vietnam.
Gloria is studying to be a psychologist when she meets Emilio Estefan (suave Mauricio Martínez), another Cuban émigré. Her mother (Nancy Ticotin), once a singer herself, and grandmother (the sublime Alma Cuervo, fiercely loving and loyal) push the shy teenager to perform (also from the book: "You don't like the spotlight, but that's where you have to be"). With Gloria in front, the Boyssoon to be renamed Miami Sound Machinesucceed in Spanish-speaking markets before attempting to break into the English-language pop scene. (Emilio tells a skeptical recording executive, "This is what an American looks like," to audience applause.) One bar mitzvah and quinceañera at a time, through visits to individual radio stations, they hit big with the exultant "Conga." Then comes international success, a bus accident that almost ends Gloria's career, and ultimate triumph.
Director Jerry Mitchell keeps things moving forward, but Trujillo's dances are the rocket fuel that propels the production, backed by an orchestra that features members of Miami Sound Machine. A large cast of hot bodies in constant motion, well costumed by Emilio Sosa on David Rockwell's modular set and lit in tropical colors by Kenneth Posner, keeps the momentum up through a finale that incorporates songs not heard during the performance.