Regional Reviews: New Jersey
On Your Feet!
After the opening number, which depicts a performance from the 1990 concert which also brings the show to a close, Feet! flashes back to 1963 Vietnam where Gloria's father Jose Fajardo, who is serving in the United States military, is listening to a recording ("Cuando Salí de Cuba") which we observe Gloria has made and sent to him. Thereafter, we meet Gloria as a young woman studying to be a psychologist and helping to care for her father who is suffering from multiple sclerosis resulting from his service in Vietnam. Impressed with the songs Gloria writes, her grandmother Consuelo arranges for her to meet Emilio Estefan, a local band leader. Gloria isn't comfortable with the idea of performing professionally and wants to pursue her education. Furthermore, her mother (for reasons to be revealed later) strongly opposes Gloria going into show business.
Further dramatic complications featured in Feet! include the resistance of the Estefans' record producer to allow them to record a crossover album when they are riding high on the Latin music circuit, and, Gloria's life-threatening spinal injuries resulting from a crash of her tour bus with a truck. This and Gloria's gritty and remarkable comeback are the principal plot drivers in the second act. The time given over to the accident and its dire repercussions is overly lengthy, casting too long a pall over the evening's pleasures. However, the joy of Gloria's comeback and its musical accompaniments provide an extended and joyously pleasurable conclusion to this praise worthy entertainment.
Missteps include the introduction of so many characters and plot points in its early phases, which initially make Feet difficult to follow, and sound engineering which has the over-amplified orchestra drowning out lyrics and distorting the music. Paper Mill has an outstanding sound system, but as Angelo Del Rossi, the late Paper Mill artistic director, told me very long ago when I complimented him on what sounded to me like a new and improved sound system, "it's not the system, it's the manner in which it is operated."
In addition to the songs which feature Latin dance rhythms, Emilio and Gloria Esteban have written more than their share of romantic ballads ae well as songs growing out of their personal struggles. As a result, the lyrics contributing to plot development seem a better fit than such lyrics generally found in jukebox musicals.
Linedy Genao captures the style and persona of Gloria Estefan with seeming ease, convincingly conveying her various musical phases through the years. Brandon Espinoza underplays Emilio Estefan. Emilio is written as being overbearing, and it is difficult to get a bead on how bookwriter Alexander Dinelaris wants us to feel about him.
Francisca Munoz (Gloria Fajardo), Yajaira Paredes (Consuelo) and Vanessa Sierra (Rebecca) as Gloria's mother, grandmother and sister, respectively, and the large supporting cast all perform solidly, but because there are so many characters who flit too briefly in and out of the story, none make a particularly strong impression.
Similarly, director-choreography Alex Sanchez has delivered a solid production in which each aspect–singing, dancing, acting–is solid, but by and large, individual performances do not stand out.
From the Act One opening depicting Gloria Estefan, her producer and songwriting partner / husband Emilio Estefan, their son Nayib, their band the Miami Sound Machine, and a crew of lively back-up singers and dancers rocking the house performing "Rhythm is Gonna Get You" at a 1990 concert on to the flashback of Gloria and company performing "1-2-3" as she hits her performing stride and she and Emilio embrace their love for one another through to the first act finale when the group first performs its crossover (from the Latin market onto the mainstream record charts) with their lively and infectious "Conga" continuing with second act opening medleys and concluding as expected with a delightfully infectious megamix song-and-dance finale, On Your Feet! provides the upbeat musical entertainment that is the raison d'etre for jukebox musicals.
What sets On Your Feet! apart from most jukebox musicals is its joyous and inspiring story of immigrants, grateful for their escape from an iron-fisted, repressive, Communist socialist dictator, who embrace being Americans, and the freedom, acceptance and love which they have received from their fellow Americans.
I strongly recommend that you remain (on your feet!) in the house at the conclusion of the curtain calls when, in one of my favorite musical highlights, the onstage orchestra plays a Latin rhythmic dance melody with a verve and melodic smoothness reminiscent of the Latin music of the 1940s big band era.
On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan runs through November 6, 2022, at Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn NJ. For tickets and information, call the box office at 973-376-4343 or visit www.papermill.org.
Book by Alexander Dinelaris/ Featuring Music Produced and Recorded by Emilio & Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine
Emilio: Brandon Espinoza Nayib: Carlos Carreras, Joseph Garcia Gloria: Linedy Genao Young Gloria: Olivia Andrade-Marin, Natalia Artigas Jose Fajardo: Luis Villabon Gloria Fajardo: Francisca Munoz Consuelo: Yajaira Paredes Rebecca: Vanessa Sierra Kiki: Diego Guevara Marquito: Mike Baerga Kenny: Kyle Laing Phil: Jonathan Arana Guitarristas: Ruben Flores, Vincent Ortega, Luis Villabon Big Paquito: Ruben Flores DJ Jimmy Mack: Kyle Laing American DJ: Vincent Ortega Latin DJ: Ruben Flores Chris: Angel Losada Jeremy: Carlos Carreras, Joshua Garcia Warren: Vincent Ortega Airport Soloist: Vincent Ortega Young Emilio: Carlos Carreras, Joshua Garcia Antonio: Ruben Flores Nena: Janina Rosa Dr. Neuwirth: Vincent Ortega Newscaster, Robin: Gabriela Garcia Rachel: Alexa Racioppi Marcello: Arthur Joseph Cuadros Lucia: Janina Rosa Amelia: Sarah Waite Announcer: Diego Guevara Additional Ensemble: Rachel Josefina, Risa Nicole