Regional Reviews: Phoenix
On Your Feet!
The plot focuses on how Emilio and Gloria, who were both born in Cuba, met in Miami and joined forces to become one of the best-selling crossover artists in pop music. Alexander Dinelaris' book is a fairly by-the-numbers tale as it touches on the highs and lows in their rise to fame. These moments include how reluctant Gloria was at first to join Emilio's band and how her mother was against her trying for a musical career since she had already started studying for a career in psychology. Fortunately, Gloria's caring grandmother encouraged her on. The high work ethic and drive of the couple as well as their desire to cross over to the English-speaking music market, only to face resistance from their record label, are also touched upon as are the well-known tour bus accident that left Gloria with a spinal cord injury and a broken back and her comeback performance at the 1991 American Music Awards.
The book is quite good in interweaving moments and characters from Gloria's past to drive home the emotion in the story while also highlighting the struggles the couple faced along their journey to fame, including the constant negativity and stubbornness of Gloria's mother. While many people may remember the March 1990 bus accident and Gloria's comeback performance just 10 months later, they may not be aware of the fact that both Gloria and Emilio's families had to escape from Cuba or that her father fought in Vietnam and suffered from multiple sclerosis and that the tense relationship with Gloria's mother resulted in them not speaking to each other for several years.
While those lesser-known facts are all additive to the story, there isn't much new that this show adds to what we've already seen in other backstage rags to riches story, and there are a few important supporting characters whose deaths are treated almost as an afterthought. Fortunately, though Emilio and Gloria were behind the creation of the show and also served as one of the Broadway production's main producers, they don't sugarcoat their story or the struggles they faced, including the issues with Gloria's mother and the blame over the accident that almost took Gloria's life, and they also don't have an issue with making fun of themselves, including how Emilio is depicted as a fast-talking, heavily accented man who is often hard to understand. The show wisely uses the upbeat pop songs for performance numbers, while the well-known ballads are used for the dramatic moments and to depict the inner feelings and thoughts of the characters, with the lyrics sounding natural and fitting perfectly into the characters' voices.
The Phoenix Theatre Company's production has a wonderful cast who deliver winning performances under Pasha Yamotahari's crisp and sharp direction which perfectly plays up the humor while also ensuring the emotional moments are never shortchanged. Yamotahari's staging keeps the show briskly moving along and the choreography by Sergio Mejia (with assistance from Nick Flores) is energetic, varied, bright, and well-danced by the a cast who deliver warm and soaring vocals under Alan J. Plado's music direction.
Kassandra Haddock and Adam James King deliver warm and winning performances that are energetic, charismatic, and realistic as Gloria and Emilio, respectively. They both have beautiful singing voices and make excellent acting choices to realistically portray the drive and determination the couple had to succeed, the importance of family, and the love they have for each other. As Gloria's disapproving mother, Karmine Alers is a force of nature that very few would dare to cross. Her solo is exceptionally sung and danced and the duet she shares with King, the one new song written for the show, "I Never Got to Tell You," is a moving number infused with emotion.
Radiating warmth and a huge heart, Maria Amorocho is wonderful as Gloria's grandmother; Adriel Garcia perfectly evokes the importance of family as Gloria's father; and Daniela Delahuerta, Petra Milan Danek, and Zach Thompson do good work as Gloria's sister Rebecca, and younger versions of Gloria and Emilio, respectively. D. Scott Withers adds depth to what could have been an assortment of stereotypical supporting roles, including Emilio and Gloria's skeptical agent. The members of the ensemble play numerous roles and deliver the abundant and varied choreography with ease.
Robert Kovach's scenic design uses several panels with cutouts of palm trees and colorful lighting from Daniel Davisson to depict both the architecture and warm climates of Miami and Cuba, with the panels sliding on and off stage to take us back and forth between the two main locations in the show as well as the various times in the story. Davisson's lighting comes alive during the performance numbers which make the Phoenix Theatre's Main Stage transform into a rock concert venue. The period and character perfect costumes from Maci Hosler, and the hair and makeup from Kelly Yurko, effectively portray the show's 1980s styles. Dave Temby's sound design delivers clear vocal and crisp notes from the exceptional onstage band.
On Your Feet! may be a typical entry in the backstage rags to riches jukebox musical format, but with over a dozen well-known, chart-topping hits from Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, including "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," "Conga," "1-2-3," "On Your Feet," and "Anything For You," it is a hugely entertaining show. With an exceptional cast and wonderful creative elements, The Phoenix Theatre's production is not only a crowd-pleaser but also a beautiful portrayal of the love between Gloria and Emilio Estefan and the battles they had to overcome to become one of the top recording artists of all time.
On Your Feet! runs through August 28, 2022, at the Phoenix Theatre Company, 1825 N Central Avenue, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit phoenixtheatre.com or call 602-254-2151.
Book by Alexander Dinelaris
Cast (in alphabetical order):
* Members of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the U.S.