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On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan
Book by Alexander Dinelaris
Featuring Music Produced and Recorded by Emilio & Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine
Directed by Maggie Burrows
Choreographed by William Carlos Angulo
The Muny
August 21, 2021

Omar Lopez-Cepero, Arianna Rosario
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

On Your Feet! at the Muny is what you may expect in some respects. It’s high energy, crowd-pleasing, and full of hit songs from Gloria Estefan, Emilio Estefan, and Miami Sound Machine. It’s big, bright, and lots of fun, but it’s also a celebration not only of music or an artist or a band, but of love, determination, and devotion.

Emilio and Gloria Estefan are well-known now, but everyone has a history, and this musical is theirs, with the emphasis, for the most part, on Gloria (Arianna Rosario). That makes sense since Gloria has been the one in the spotlight for the most part, first as lead singer of Miami Sound Machine and then as a solo recording artist. Really, though, she and husband and producer Emilio (Omar Lopez-Cepero) have been partners in music since they first started working together. This show goes back further than their meeting, though, as Little Gloria (Isabella Ianelli) sends tapes of her singing to her father José Fajardo (Martín Solá) while he is serving in Vietnam. The story then follows Gloria and her family as Gloria gets older, including her mother, Gloria Fajardo (Natascia Diaz), her younger sister Rebecca (Cristina Sastre), and her grandmother Consuelo (Alma Cuervo). It’s Consuelo who is convinced that the young Gloria should pursue a career in music, and encourages her to audition for Emilio’s band. She does, and the band grows from a popular local act focusing on Latin music to an international pop music sensation.

Throughout the story, we see continued demonstrations of determination and devotion–of Gloria’s parents and grandparents as they flee Cuba to settle in Miami; of Gloria to her family as her father falls ill with multiple sclerosis; of Consuelo, who never gives up on encouraging Gloria in her musical ambitions; of Emilio to Gloria and their mutual drive for innovation and success. It’s a heartwarming story, told with a fair amount of flashback as stories unfold and challenges arise and are overcome, culminating in Gloria’s famous 1991 performance on the American Music Awards. 

I’ve seen this show before, when the tour based on the Broadway production played at the Fox Theatre. Here, there’s some continuity with that production, as Alma Cuervo, who plays Consuelo, also played the same role on that tour (as well as in the original Broadway cast), and as she was on tour, she is excellent here, providing a lot of the “heart” in this story. Also strong are Diaz as Gloria Fajardo, who is determined and devoted for her own part, although she harbors some regrets. There are also strong performances from Solá as José, Sastre in the somewhat small role of Rebecca, and especially young Iannelli, who lights up the stage with much energy and an excellent voice as Little Gloria. At the center of this show, of course, are Rosario and Lopez-Cepero as Gloria and Emilio. These two, who are also married in real life, display a great deal of chemistry, and their scenes together are a highlight. They also give winning individual performances, with Rosario bringing all the stage presence, vocal quality, and energy necessary for her role, and Lopez-Cepero displaying the strength and determination, as well as a clear sense of love for his family, that characterizes Emilio in this story. There’s also an excellent ensemble, doing a terrific job with all those high-energy dance numbers choreographed by William Carolos Angulo.

Visually, the show fills the large Muny stage with vibrant style, with a vivid, versatile set by Tim Mackabee, dazzling costumes by Leon Dobkowski, great lighting by Rob Denton and memorable video design by Kate Ducey. There’s also a great band (brought onstage for much of the second act) led by music director Lon Hoyt. There were quite a few issues with the microphones on opening night, with some dialogue being difficult to hear, and the otherwise excellent “Reach” number suffering from not being able to fully hear some of the ensemble solos. I hope this improves as the show continues its run. 

Still, for the most part, this is big, fun, enthusiastically performed and heartwarming show. The well-known songs like “Get On Your Feet”, “The Rhythm is Gonna Get You”, and “Conga” are here, and the audience clearly appreciates it, right up to the “Megamix” medley of hits at the end.  What I find especially memorable about this show in addition to the music, however, is the portrayal of strong and enduring relationships. On stage at the Muny for the first time, On Your Feet! brings a lot of heart along with the familiar tunes. 

Arianna Rosario (Center) and Cast of On Your Feet!
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

The Muny is presenting On Your Feet! in Forest Park until August 27, 2021

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