Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
On Your Feet!
While Gloria Estefan was the voice and face of this music, she shares the story equally with her husband, bandleader and music producer Emilio, and the first act explores their challenges separately and together. The show opens in 1990 during a Miami Sound Machine concert in the midst of a world tour, but quickly jumps back in time to the '60s in Miami, where we meet young Gloria (a dynamic Amaris Sanchez at this performance), who delights her neighbors with her music, but who also has taken on a lot of responsibility for her family. Before long, we reach the '70s, when teenage Gloria (an engaging Arianna Rosario at this performance) catches the attention of small-time impresario Emilio (a magnetic Mauricio Martinez). Though supported by her grandmother (the delightful Alma Cuervo), Gloria must defy her mother to join the group. Compounding this personal conflict is the industry's opposition to a Latin act crossing over to mainstream success. Though their eventual triumph is satisfying to witness, there is no easy life waiting for them, as any fan of the act knows very well.
This songbook, which includes hits by Miami Sound Machine and by Gloria Estefan in her solo years, transfers reasonably well to the stage; their songs of love and resolve work just as easily in this book as they did on the radio. A huge contribution is made by the onstage band, roughly half of which is made up of members of the real Miami Sound Machine. The band alone is worth the ticket price and is the strongest part of the production. Practically all of the hits are represented, and many of them are performed in various concert scenarios, sometimes distracting from the story arc.
Veteran Broadway director Jerry Mitchell has done a fair job handling a book by Alexander Dinelaris (better known for his screenplays) which plays out much like a film script with its back-and-forth scene changes. The balance between musical moments and dramatic moments is more effective in some places than others. The production benefits greatly from David Rockwell's scenic design; his concept of sliding and turning panels (beautifully designed to resemble a multitude of shutters, evocative of Miami) break up the large stage into many intimate spaces. Unfortunately, at the performance I saw, an early malfunction with one of these panels halted the show for a short time. Projection design by Darrel Maloney also helps to transform the sparse sets into recognizable and even animated scenes.
At the performance I attended, the role of Gloria was played by the understudy, Arianna Rosario, and she carried the show flawlessly and professionally, with the ease of a true star. She had her work cut out for her because Mauricio Martinez, playing Emilio, makes quite an impact with both his acting and his singing. His early appearance in a pair of white shorts may be the second reason to attend this show, after the band. At first, Martinez's vocal characterization of Emilio sounds a bit like Desi Arnaz, but he invests his performance with subtlety and vulnerability that overcomes caricature, which is a feat because the relationship between Emilio and Gloria is rushed at times and not thoroughly developed. These two have stellar voices, but the show suffers from sub-par singing from some of the supporting cast. Other notable performances come from Alma Cuervo as Gloria's grandmother, taking advantage of every comedic moment, and Danny Burgos (at this performance) as Gloria's father, giving a moving rendition of "When Someone Comes into Your Life," one of the few truly emotional moments in the production.
Perhaps the most memorable line of this show comes from Emilio, as he is correcting a record executive about his nationality: "Look at this face, this is what an American looks like." The age of whitewashed musicals has given way to greater diversity in the theatre and this reviewer welcomes that. Just as the Estefans had to claim their place on pop radio, they have claimed their place on the Broadway stage; these spaces are not just a reflection of who we were, but more importantly, who we are. Thanks to the determination of artists like the Estefans, more people will be inspired to pursue their dreams, perhaps getting us on our feet in the near future.
On Your Feet!, presented by SunTrust Broadway, at Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St. Durham NC through January 7th, 2018. Tickets can be purchased online at www.DPACnc.com and www.ticketmaster.com, or through the Ticket Center at DPAC in person or by phone at 919-680-2787. For more information on the tour, visit https://onyourfeetmusical.com.
Music and Lyrics:
Emilio and Gloria Estefan
Cast (in order of appearance):