Gloria Estefan’s Broadway musical ‘On Your Feet!’ makes triumphant Chicago return
By Philip Potempa
There is no mistaking the electricity and energy that surrounds the music and performances of international superstar Gloria Estefan.
I don’t automatically leap to my feet following the finale of a production, but the inspiring and exciting life and career of Estefan has the power to propel audiences, including myself, to do just that.
Broadway In Chicago is hosting a three-week return run of “On Your Feet!,” now through April 8 at Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, in Chicago. The musical is based on the life story of the seven-time Grammy winner, who has sold more than 100 million albums worldwide, and her husband, 19 time Grammy winning legendary producer-musician-entrepreneur Emilio Estefan.
I first reviewed “On Your Feet!” in June 2015 when it debuted in Chicago, and originated its Pre-Broadway engagement started performances on Broadway on October 5, 2015, with an opening night of November 5, 2015, at the Marquis Theatre in New York City.
From the heart of Havana to the streets of Miami, this two and half hour, one-intermission, journey is the personal and professional story of Gloria with husband Emilio at her side and guiding her career as woven through Gloria’s hit songs, including “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” “Conga,” “1-2-3,” “Get On Your Feet,” “Mi Tierra,” Don’t Want To Lose You Now” and “Reach,” in addition to a new original song “If I Never Got to Tell You” written by Gloria and her daughter Emily Estefan.
Directed by two-time Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell and choreographed by Tony Award nominee and Olivier Award winner Sergio Trujillo, with an original book by Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris, “On Your Feet!” has become fine-tuned as a seamless musical timeline enforcing important themes of family and persistence while entertaining audiences with the spirit of Gloria Estefan and her ability to persevere and succeed despite life’s obstacles.
Besides the fun and fascinating nods to everyone from Shirley Temple to Dick Clark, “On Your Feet” never attempts to sanitize even the most difficult struggles of both Gloria and Emilio, spanning humble beginnings to the unfair power tactics they faced in the music industry as replayed in scenes from the 1980s when the couple’s headlining group Miami Sound Machine dominated charts. By the time the hit “Conga” was making waves in 1985, even Shriners were lining up and tossing their hats into the air to celebrate the dance sensation, which is fantastically captured in this musical’s telling.
This touring cast is entirely new compared to the names who were on stage in the Windy City in 2015 for the launch.
Christie Prades as Gloria and Mauricio Martinez as Emilio are the show’s stars, and both have strong and resonant vocals that bring the music and moxie of the Estefans to life on stage. Though Prades looks less like the real Estefan than actress Anna Villafane, who originated as Gloria in the musical’s launch as both Gloria and Emilio were seated in the audience for opening night, Prades’ performance is stronger than her predecessor, likely aided by her time touring in this production for a natural ease in the role. Prades is bursting with voice and movement as she leads the ensemble, along with her young counterpart Amaris Sanchez, who hails from Chicago, as “Little Gloria,” in one of the large early numbers “Tradicion,” framing the hopes and dreams of Havana which transcend to the streets of Miami.
Martinez is a master of charm and robust talent and his chemistry with Prades is both real and realized in such musical numbers as “Here We Are” and “I See Your Smile.”
The third powerhouse performance for this run is Nancy Ticotin as Gloria’s strong-willed mother Gloria Fajardo. Ticotin made her Broadway debut at age 10. She
carefully balances her character’s persona as a passionate parent and devoted spouse. She must care for Gloria’s father Jose, played by Jason Martinez, as he battles his disease MS, as she recognizes her own faded ambitions to be a performer. Ticotin sizzles in her nightclub musical number “Mi Tierra” and delivers on every levels in her scenes tinged with both love and jealousy to accept both her daughter’s happy marriage and fame. Actress Debra Cardona has a fun turn as the singer’s sweet and supportive grandma Consuelo. For the opening night performance on March 23, young talent Kevin Tellez played the roles of the Estefans’ son Nayib, as well as “Young Emilio” during a flashback sequence.
The creative team are four-time Tony-nominated Scenic Designer David Rockwell and Tony-nominated Costume Designer Emilio Sosa paired with Tony Award-winning Lighting Designer Kenneth Posner, Tony Award-winning Sound Designer Steve Kennedy and Projections by Darrel Maloney with Hair and Wig Designer Chuck LaPointe.
From the quaint home of Gloria’s youth to her tour bus, dressing room and even her hospital room after her devastating traffic accident in March 1990, clever and effective scenery changes and well-planned projections move the story and settings along with the musical numbers. And by the final bows, audiences are easily moved to their feet in a sea of rhythm as the cast joins together for a contagious blend of music and dance celebrating life, family, memories and achievement.
The Music Direction is by Clay Ostwald, who has been a member of Miami Sound Machine since 1987. “On Your Feet!” features Orchestrations by both Gloria and Emilio Estefan with arrangements by Lon Hoyt Dance Arrangements and the Dance Orchestrations are by Oscar Hernandez.
“On Your Feet!” is produced by James L. Nederlander and Estefan Enterprises, Inc. in partnership with Bernie Yuman.
Performances of “On Your Feet!” continue through April 8 with tickets priced from $30 to $110. FYI: (800) 775-2000 or www.BroadwayInChicago.com or www.OnYourFeetMusical.com
Philip Potempa is a veteran journalist and published author. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.