Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The songstwenty-six of themare from two general categories: heartfelt ballads and jubilant, celebratory dance music. Drawing from their vast catalog, the Estefanswho were directly involved in the creation of On Your Feet!, including as producersselected many of their top hits and inserted them thoughtfully throughout the show to express emotional ups or downs of the principals, as well as to break out into fan-favorite pulsating rhythms with great frequency. As a musical entertainment, it raises the roof and leaves the audience wanting to dance their way out the aisles.
Everything about the music is commendable, with high praise to the fabulous onstage orchestra, whose roster boasts several members of the Miami Sound Machine, including the show's music director, Clay Ostwald. I have never seen such a large portion of the audience remain in place listening and swaying to the band play after the final curtain call, during what is called "walk-out music," because that's usually what most people are doing. The sound in the vast Orpheum was perfectly toned, without a hint of first night imbalance or static that sometimes visits the house.
Alexander Dinelaris Jr. wrote the book for the show, his first bow on Broadway, though he has an Oscar on his shelf for the screenplay for the Oscar-winning film Birdman and scribed the book for the musical The Bodyguard . It serves well enough to tell the story of Emilio's discovery of Gloriaas a songwriter, initiallywhen she was a 17-year- old in Miami, the daughter of Cuban immigrants; her rapid ascent to vocalist, causing Emilio and his group to change their name from Miami Latin Boys to Miami Sound Machine; and the inevitable romance that blossoms between Gloria and Emilio. There is a window into the battle they waged to have their cross-over sound accepted, against the objections of Latin radio DJs that it sounded to "American" and of mainstream radio DJs that it was too "Latin," though we never see them suffer anything that really looks like hardship. Then, of course (spoiler alert here if you are not a follower of pop culture and history), we come to the well-known bus accident that critically injured Gloria in 1989, and her amazing comeback just ten months later at the American Music Awards, where she unveils the song "Coming Out of the Dark," a truly inspiring accomplishment at the time that is lovingly relived in On Your Feet!.
Intertwined throughout the rags to riches, knock-down to comeback journey, is a conflict between Gloria and her stern mother, who opposes Gloria's turn to show business and her relationship with Emilio every step of the way, while Gloria's father withers away with multiple sclerosis linked to his army stint in Vietnam. Standing by to give Gloria the nurturing her mother withholds is her grandmother. These are the conflict points in the narrative, but they are so overshadowed by the unstoppable path of Gloria's astounding success that it feels like an afterthought, rather than a dramatic arc for the show. There is no doubt a strong play can be drawn from the tale of Gloria's family, the Fajardos, who suffered a long list of hardships and indignities, but the pared down retelling it gets in On Your Feet! feels at odds with the otherwise uplifting nature of the show.
That being said, we certainly can never have too much "uplifting," especially when it is delivered by such a high energy, talented, and attractive cast. Gloria is played by Christie Prades, who covered the role as a swing during the Broadway run, but steps out here with star quality bursting in all directions. Prades performs the well-known songs with heartfelt passion, moves with gazelle-like grace, and conveys Gloria's palette of emotions throughout her journey with total conviction. On opening night, understudy Eddie Noel stepped up from the role of Gloria's father to play Emilio. Physically, Noel is larger than Emilio, making his stance beside Prades' Gloria a little jarring to those familiar with the real couple, but his acting and singing both measure up well.
Nancy Ticotin is terrific as Gloria's mother (who was also named Gloria), taking out her discontent with life on those around her and singing with a throaty determination. As Consuela, Gloria's grandmother, Alma Cuervo repeats the part she played in the original Broadway cast. Cuervo is a long-time stage veteran, and brings her experience center stage, expressing the wisdom of a woman who has seen too much of life to let the barriers of the past determine the future. She conveys an adorableness that makes it impossible not to love this abuela. Jose Rosario, Jr., also a veteran of the Broadway production, leapt from the ensemble to make a solid impression as Gloria's father José Fajardo.
The ensemble trade off on a variety of small parts, and work together in the numerous dance numbers as a well-oiled machine that runs on boundless energy. The sense of spontaneity and joy projected by their dances lifts their numbers from performance to celebration. Of course, such "spontaneity" is well planned. Sergio Trujillo's choreography earned him a Tony Award nomination. The award went to Andy Blankenbuehler for Hamilton, and the latter is a superb example of using dance as part of the narrative, with the story of a founding father told through dance, as well as through speech and song. Trujillo's work in On Your Feet! is more typical, as dance to entertain and express joy, breaking no new groundbut within its genre, it is top of the line.
Director Jerry Mitchell has a long run of Broadway musical successes as director-choreographer (Legally Blonde, Kinky Boots) and choreographer (The Full Monty, Hairspray) and knows the territory well. Coming from the world of dance, he has worked well with Trujillo to emphasize constant movement and musicality from scene to scene, with transitions gliding by without ever a pause. For the book scenes, he draws focus away from the music and onto the characters, striving to withstand the inherent dominance of the music. The simple, effective sets designed by David Rockwell make frequent use of sliding panels that aide in the sense of continuous movement. Emilio Sosa's bright costume designs look great when brought to life on the dance floor. Kenneth Posner's lighting design is a particular asset, providing the shading needed to convey emotional swells in the course of the show, and turning into a full-force extravaganza for some of the performance scenes, with an especially well-done image of 4th of July fireworks.
On Your Feet! is a show with limitationsits book is underwhelming, and it does not push the form ahead in any waybut what it has to offer, it offers extremely well. That is a celebration of the music and life of Gloria Estefan, and to honor the tenacity which with she and her steadfast partner Emilio pushed for acceptance across the barriers of music genres. It is also a performance of fine singing, astounding dance, and phenomenal musicianship that easily lives up to its name, bringing the audience to their feet. It will certainly provide sizzling heat for the cold days and nights ahead.
On Your Feet!, through January 27, 2019, at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis MN. Tickets: $39.00 - $135.00. Student and Educator Rush tickets available (two per valid ID) two hours before each performance, $25.00, cash only. For tickets call 800-982-2787 or go to hennepintheatretrust.org. For information on the tour, visit onyourfeetmusical.com.
Book: Alexander Dinelaris; Music: Emilio & Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine; Director: Jerry Mitchell; Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo; Scenic Design: David Rockwell; Costume: Emilio Sosa; Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner; Sound Design: SCK Sound Design: Production Design: Darrel Maloney; Wig and Hair Design: Charles G. LaPointe; Casting: Telsey + Company; Music Coordinator: Patrick Vaccariello; Music Direction: Clay Ostwald; Orchestrations: Gloria and Emilio Estefan; Additional Orchestrations: Clay Ostwald, Jorge Casas; Arrangements: Lon Hoyt; Dance Music Arrangements and Orchestrations: Oscar Hernández; Production Stage Manager: Eric Insko; Associate Director: Andy Señor, Jr.; Associate Choreographers: Maria Torres, Natalie Caruncho; Associate Music Director: Emmanuel Schvartzman.
Cast: Jonathan Arana (Guitarrista/Latin DJ/Antonio, Marcello), Sam J. Cahn (Guitarrista/American DJ/Warren), Alma Cuervo (Consuelo), Shadia Fairuz (Lucia), Adriel Flete (Kiki), Jennifer Florintino (Robin), Devon Goffman (Phil, Dr. Neuwirth), Hector Maisonet (Kenny), Mauricio Martínez (Emilio), Claudia Mulet ((Nena), Eddie Noel (José Fajardo), Marina Peres (Rachel), Christie Prades (Gloria), Ana-Sofia Rodriguez *(Little Gloria), Jose Rosario, Jr. (Marquito/Guitarrista/Chris), Carmen Sanchez *(Little Gloria), Jean Paul Medina Solano *(Nayib/Jeremy/Young Emilio), Nancy Ticotin (Gloria Fajardo), Jorden Vergara *( Nayib/Jeremy/Young Emilio), Claudia Yanez (Rebecca). * appearing at alternate performances
Ensemble: Anthony Alfaro, Jonathan Arana, Sam J. Cahn, Shadia Fairuz, Adriel Flete, Jennifer Florentino, Yesy Garcia, Devon Goffman, Hector Maisonet, Alejandra Matos, Claudia Mulet, Marina Pires, Jeremy Adam Rey, Gabriel Reyes, Jose Rosario Jr., Shani Taylor, Claudia Yanez.