Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
On Your Feet!: The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan follows the rise to fame of America's most successful Latin singer and band. Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, led by her husband Emilio, had a string of hits in the 1980s and early 1990s. The musical showcases a plethora of their memorable Cuban-fusion dance tunes, such as "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," "1-2-3," "Get On Your Feet!," "Turn the Beat Around," and the exuberant and catchy pop hit that closes out act one, "Conga." Also on display are many of Estefan's well-known ballads, including "Here We Are," "I See You Smile," "Anything for You," and "Don't Wanna Lose You." Most of the songs are staged as performance numbers. Of the few that are presented as book songs (mostly slower tempo ones such as "Here We Are"), they generally flow organically from the narrative, though border on being too melodramatic at times.
The book, supplied by Alexander Dinelaris, is a fairly by-the-book jukebox bio-musical story. Jukebox musicals either use existing songs to tell the story of the artist, as it does here and for other musicals such as Beautiful (Carole King) and Jersey Boys (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons), or to tell a brand-new story such as Mamma Mia! (ABBA), All Shook Up (Elvis Presley), or Head Over Heels (the Go-Go's). One could question whether Gloria Estefan's road to fame was unique or intriguing enough to warrant a Broadway musical, as the story sometimes feels predictable and lacking the scope of other iconic artists. Still, it's a fine framework for showcasing the many first-rate pop songs present.
Director Jerry Mitchell provides a steady hand, smooth transitions, and some playful and visually appealing blocking. This material seems a perfect fit for choreographer Sergio Trujillo, and the dances are athletic, culturally accurate, and fun, and include a number of tricks and moves not usually seen in Broadway musicals. Clay Ostwald leads an excellent high-octane band which is seen on stage during some of the performance numbers.
The performances in the national tour of On Your Feet! are all top notch. Christie Prades is both endearing and strong as Gloria, and sings the material splendidly while never sounding like an imitation. Eddie Noel provides great vocals as Gloria's husband Emilio, nails the comedic parts of the role, and conveys the care and support Emilio has provided to Gloria throughout their lives. Nancy Ticotin (Gloria Fajardo), Debra Cardona (Consuelo), and Jose Rosario, Jr. (Jose Fajardo) shine in their moments as Gloria's parents and grandmother, and juvenile performers Jeanpaul Medina Solano and Carmen Sanchez likewise demonstrate loads of talent in supporting roles. The hard-working ensemble executes the many exciting dance moves with great skill.
David Rockwell's set design mainly consists of sliding panels and smaller set pieces, and works well in conjunction with Darrel Maloney's detailed projections. Kenneth Posner supplies his usual gorgeous lighting, including some quite captivating concert-style effects. The costumes by Emilio Sosa are colorful, period-appropriate, and include some unexpected surprises.
Despite a somewhat weak story for a musical, On Your Feet! audiences are certain to delight in the vibrant Latin dances and strong performances that go along with the many familiar songs made famous by Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, as demonstrated in this national tour production. With Broadway getting two new bio-musicals of this type this season, The Cher Show and Ain't Too Proud, featuring the songs of the Temptations, audiences can expect to see more shows like On Your Feet! coming their way.
On Your Feet!, through March 24, 2019, at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati. Tickets can be ordered by calling 800-294-1816 or visiting www.cincinnatiarts.org/aronoff-center. For more information on the tour, visit onyourfeetmusical.com.