On Your Feet! The Emilio and Gloria Estefan Musical opened last night at the Durham Performing Arts Center to frigid weather and an almost full house, and the show and performers did their best to keep the audience warm with infectious music and hot-hot-hot dancing, as well as the heartwarming story of Emilio Estefan Jr. and Gloria Fajardo Estefan’s romance and rise to fame. The rhythm not only got everyone at DPAC, but most certainly reached out to spread a bit of Miami Heat to the rest of the Triangle, as well!
The show opens with a recorded announcement from producers Gloria and Emilio Estefan themselves that demonstrates a sense of humor and keeps up that positivity throughout the performance. The title song, with full band and amazing dancers, jumpstarts the show; and even though people are already dancing in their seats, the story behind the music is what enthralls the audience.
Bongos and maracas provide the unmistakable Latin beat that became the signature for Emilio Estefan’s ; then Gloria Estefan’s voice blasts out, and you realize that voice sold over 100 million records and packed stadiums around the world. But the music is only part of what makes this show a Broadway star.
Written by Academy Award® winner Alexander Dinelaris/a>, directed by Tony Award® winner Jerry Mitchell, and choreographed by Tony nominee and Olivier Award winner Sergio Trujillo, this show is a winner before it even begins.
The story of Gloria’s family is at the core of this musical. Her family is fascinating. It includes a loving father who’d fought in Vietnam, but ended his life fighting another, far more fierce foe; her mother, a strict, organized, and determined woman who ran the family from outside the house; her grandmother, a warm, funny woman who encouraged Gloria’s dreams; and her sister, Rebecca, the girl Gloria cared for and, ultimately, brought on tour. But Gloria’s love for music and Emilio’s determination to succeed are what fuels the fire that turned the music of Gloria and Emilio Estefan into the cultural phenomenon.
The Estefans, with 26 Grammy Awards between them, are a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment world; but it was not an easy road for them. The singers/actors who portray Gloria and Emilio must be equally as talented. Surprisingly, the entire cast not only meets this challenge, but adds an extra sparkle and nuance to their characters that brings this story into the audience’s hearts.
The opening scenes bring us into 1966 when Gloria’s father, José Fajardo (played by Danny Burgos, subbing for Jason Martinez) is fighting in Vietnam, and receives a tape of Gloria’s singing. He sings to his young daughter (played alternately by Amaris Sanchez and Carmen Sanchez), telling her, “Your voice brings joy to a place as dark as Vietnam.” Burgos returns several times in the production, as a ghostly figure who supports Gloria even though he physically suffers with multiple sclerosis and is bedridden during much of her life.
Burgos’ voice is strong and often cracks with a palpable emotion appropriate to his character. Amaris Sanchez, as young Gloria, is bright and entertaining, with a booming voice that will take her far if she remains onstage and a gangly preteen way of moving that makes her especially endearing.
Arianna Rosario (who stepped in as Gloria because Christie Prades was out sick) has a sumptuous texture to her voice that’s very much like Gloria’s. She captures Gloria Estefan’s energy and truly shines during the ballads, such as “Here We Are.” As the show goes on, Rosario becomes stronger; and by the end of the performance, she’s truly morphed into Estefan herself: more confident, and determined to come back from whatever trials and tribulations are tossed her way.
That part of the story — Gloria Estefan’s family challenges, as well as her near-death experience — is one most of the audience was unfamiliar with, and moments like those are what make what could have been an ordinary musical a memorable piece of theater. Gloria and Emilio Estefan (played with a comic lilt by Mauricio Martínez) have a Horatio Alger-type of love story. Individually, they burn with a passion for their music; but together, they become a volcano.
Neither Emilio nor Gloria ever considers giving up or taking no for an answer. Together, they sell their music out of the trunk of their car, perform for free all over the world just so someone will hear their songs, and raise their family on a tour bus so they can all be together. They believe in themselves, and it is that overwhelming sense of confidence and genius that makes them the chart-topping success they are today.
Mauricio Martínez’s chemistry with Arianna Rosario is at times warm and tender, but then standoffish and funny. He seems to make fun of himself, which is consistent with how Emilio actually seems during the opening announcement with Gloria. Martínez has one of the best moments of the show when he solos with “Don’t Wanna Lose You.” As his voice fills the theater with the poignant lines of the song and the drama of almost losing his wife, he digs deep into his character and makes us believe in his heartbreak.
The songs, the costumes, the story! Every major hit that the Miami Sound Machine created — the iconic “Conga,” the dance songs, and the ballads — are all produced with precision, requiring a working stage that produces a full band on a stage that slides forward and backward, and a full troupe of fast-moving, scissor-kicking dancers.
You can’t sit still in your seat when the band members come into the audience and invite you to get on your feet! Every sizzling costume is flashy and over the top, exactly as they were when the band wore them on stage. Every set change uses simple panel movements made of shutters that make a jigsaw puzzle that depicts Miami or a bus or the world stages where Gloria blew audiences away almost every night of the year. Every moment of the story holds you enthralled, the dramatic moments perfectly underscored by the music, the personal story interweaving with the professional one.
Secondary characters rise from their minor roles and become memorable. Gloria’s abeula (grandmother Consuelo) is both lovable and funny as portrayed by the talented Alma Cuervo. “Do what makes you happy,” Consuelo tells Gloria at one point, and the comment resonates as the theme for the backbone of the story.
Nancy Ticotin plays Gloria’s mother, a woman who’d lost her own chance at stardom years ago in Cuba, but is the last member of Gloria’s family to get on the bandwagon and support Gloria’s rocky road to success. She carries her pain in an elegant, often caustic way, and has a shining moment when she has a solo, reliving the moment she gave up her own career.
The star of the night, however, is Gloria Estefan understudy Arianna Rosario. A bit tentative at first, she grows with the role, her voice relaxing and providing the rich timbre that Estefan’s voice embodies. She can reach the high soaring notes and can color the low notes, all while dancing to a Latin beat all over the stage. Rosario owns the role and transforms herself on opening night into Gloria Estefan, the star whom she portrays. Bravo!
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 3rd Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2018/01/on-your-feet-stands-out-for-its-ability-to-inspire/; Jan. 2nd Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/on-your-feet/Event?oid=10300475; Dec. 30th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Jennifer Bringle: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article192201954.html; Dec. 27th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com preview by Kathy Hanrahan for “What’s on Tap”: http://www.wral.com/-on-your-feet-tackles-timely-american-dream-/17197557/; and Oct. 6th New York, NY Playbill.com preview by Andrew Gans: http://www.playbill.com/article/national-tour-of-on-your-feet-opens-october-6.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents ON YOUR FEET! THE STORY OF EMILIO & GLORIA ESTEFAN at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 3 and 4, 8 p.m. Jan. 5, 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 6, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 7 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $30 and up, plus taxes and fees. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/2336216.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qG78FylnHg0.
DPAC‘S 2017-18 “TEN GREAT YEARS” SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: https://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2017-18 and https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/announcing-suntrust-broadway-at-dpac-2017-2018-season.
THE TOUR: https://onyourfeetmusical.com/, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/on-your-feet-514072, https://www.facebook.com/OnYourFeetTheMusical, https://www.twitter.com/OnYourFeetBway, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Your_Feet!#U.S._Tour, and https://www.youtube.com/subscription_center?add_user=OnYourFeetBway.
TOUR CREATIVE TEAM: https://onyourfeetmusical.com/cast-and-creative/#creative.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 6th, performance.
On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan (2015 Broadway musical): https://onyourfeetmusical.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/on-your-feet-497819 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Your_Feet! (Wikipedia).
Emilio Estefan (music and lyrics): http://www.emilioestefanjr.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/emilio-estefan-497825 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0261555/ (Internet Movie Database), http://www.facebook.com/EmilioEstefan (Facebook page), http://www.twitter.com/emilioestefanjr (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emilio_Estefan (Wikipedia).
Gloria Estefan (music and lyrics): http://gloriaestefan.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/gloria-estefan-497824 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0002065/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/gloriaestefan (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/GloriaEstefan (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gloria_Estefan (Wikipedia).
Alexander Dinelaris (book): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/alexander-dinelaris-406393 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5409486/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/alex.dinelaris (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/alexdinelaris (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Dinelaris (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.