During Act I of “On Your Feet!” there's a moment where Gloria (Christie Prades) and Emilio (Mauricio Martínez) are talking with Phil (Devon Goffman), a record label executive who won’t back their new hit because it isn’t in Spanish. An argument ensues — for a variety of reasons — but leads to the audience finding out more about Emilio’s background and how he came to America, how he’s been there for 15 years, and how he’s worked his butt off to get where he is. Suddenly he shouts, “Look at my face. Whether you know it or not, this is what an American looks like.” Cue one of the audience’s many thunderous applauses.
The jukebox musical might have opened in 2015, but those words felt extra important last night, given that we now live in a world where discussion of a border wall — and what will happen to DACA recipients — seems to be happening daily.
“On Your Feet!” represents the American dream, this time told through the Estefans’ story, following the family from their beginnings in Miami to international superstardom, and Gloria’s return after her infamous tour bus collision.
Speaking of Gloria and Emilio, Prades and Martínez complement each other as well as peanut butter and jelly. From the get-go, there’s an ease watching them, as if they have in fact been together for years. There’s a comfort between them, loads of humor, and some really excellent harmonies.
They are just as impressive on their own too. Getting to watch Prades blossom through her music is one of the great joys of this show, going from a shy girl who hates being the center of attention to a woman living the life she always dreamed of. And Martínez's Emilio comes in hot the minute he walks on stage. He’s funny and a little cocky, but he sure is passionate about the music and Gloria, and gets a chance to really showcase his voice in Act II.
Alexander Dinelaris’ book shows that the two of them, above all else, are each other’s partners and equals, and the show beautifully portrays that.
On Your Feet! is also filled with secondary characters who have stories I’d willingly watch their own shows about. There’s the loving and heartbreaking relationship between Gloria’s parents, Gloria and José Fajardo, played by Nancy Ticotin and Jason Martinez respectively. And Debra Cardona’s Consuelo, Gloria’s grandma. Consuelo is often used to play up the humor in the show, which Cardona does effortlessly, but she’s also a large part of the show’s heart, constantly reassuring her granddaughter that she can do this. Cardona does that effortlessly too.
As for the show’s music, On Your Feet! is filled with music from Emilio and Gloria, and the Miami Sound Machine (multiple members of the orchestra are actual members of the group). From moment one you can tell this is going to be a fun show. Oftentimes, it feels like you’re at a concert, especially every time the top-notch band begins to play. There’s an energy that comes off that stage and makes you want to dance along to Sergio Trugillo’s Tony-nominated choreography, and hits like “Dr. Beat” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You.” Really though, good luck not dancing at least a little.
While the Jerry Mitchell-directed musical travels all over the world, the trifecta of David Rockwell’s scenic design, Kenneth Posner’s lighting and Emilio Sosa’s costumes never make you question where the characters are. Miami is bright and loud in everything from Sosa’s creations to Rockwell’s set. Then there’s the part of the show that takes place in Vietnam during the war, where Posner’s lighting design is as dark and gloomy as the war itself.
Sosa’s costumes shift from decade to decade and place to place with ease, perfectly emulating everything from 1980s Miami to Havana at the height of the Cuban Revolution. The details are simply spectacular.
The Estefans are two people who have worked and worked and worked for everything they’ve earned during their careers, and On Your Feet! showcases and celebrates their tenacity. They simply wanted to make amazing music and get that to the people, no matter what language they spoke.
During the Act I closer — “Conga” in all its glory — Gloria performs her hit at a Bar Mitzvah for a boy named Jeremy, an Italian wedding, and at a Shriner's convention in Las Vegas, proving that good music is going to get you no matter your age, race, sex or religion. Emilio might be what an American looks like, but On Your Feet! is what America looks like.
On Your Feet!