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First Nighter: The Gloria and Emilio Estefan Musical "On Your Feet!" Rhythm is Calculated to Get You

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 6/11/2015 David Finkle

Can a Celine Dion Broadway extravaganza be far behind? Or, for that matter, a Taylor Swift musical retrospective? It certainly looks as if a trend is gathering with Beautiful, celebrating the life and canon of Carole King, still going strong at the Stephen Sondheim and, at the Marquis now, On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan enthusiastically paying tribute to that pair of music-biz millionaires.
Let it immediately be said, audiences will certainly get their money's worth at On Your Feet! if they're enamored of the hot-hot music spread around the globe in tandem by Gloria (Ana Villafane, standing in for the real thing and with energy to spare) and hubby Emilio (Josh Segarra, soigné and sexy as hell in this incarnation).
Director Jerry Mitchell helps deliver what's called for in jukebox endeavors like this one. Providing even more oomph is choreographer Sergio Trujillo, who brings on his dancers at the first high-decibel sound blast from the large band Lon Hoyt conducts. Then Trujillo carries on with great regularity from big start to even bigger finish and then right into the curtain call. He hardly stops sending his indefatigable terpers into routines characterized by much shoulder manipulation, hand-clapping and hip swiveling.
(There's the feeling throughout that if each dancer--including the hyperkinetic Villafane--were to earn a nickel for every swiveled hip asked for in the show, they'd already be millionaires. And the run is only getting underway!)
What the Estefan(s) fans get as far as the On Your Feet! book by Alexander Dinelaris goes is initially a sketchy telling of Gloria's modest Cuba upbringing. Then it's sketchily on to her introduction to Emilio and his Miami Sound Machine. He instantly sees her potential, takes her under his guidance, and, as he and she promote her crossover sound slowly at first and then ever more rapidly, they eventually marry and build their joint revenue-supplier.
At the outset, little Gloria (big-voiced Alexandria Suarez) is presented as the kind of wannabe singer who only has to venture into the local marketplace for a few minutes before she has instigated an explosive sing-and-dance-along with local musicians and eager neighbors joining in on the impromptu fun.
More realistically, Gloria's family comes into play, and that includes muscular-dystrophy-afflicted father José Fajardo (Eliseo Roman), uptight mother Gloria (the always superb Andréa Burns), grandmother Consuelo (the also always superb Alma Cuervo), loyal sister Rebecca (Genny Lis Padilla) and Emilio-Gloria son, Nayib (Eduardo Hernandez, taking on two other roles and behaving in all three as if a key in his back had been overwound).
It so happens that mother Gloria disapproves of daughter Gloria's career choice--when she could have used her college degree differently--but grandma Consuelo believes in young Gloria's show-biz possibilities. As the story unfolds--and the thought nags that there has to be much more to it--the mother-daughter disagreement and eventual two-year estrangement serve as the tuner's major conflict.
That knot becomes knottier when Estefan is severely injured in the 1990 accident as the tour bus in which she was sleeping was rammed by a jack-knifed truck that had been hit and sent flying by a second truck. At that point, the suspense--such as it is, since the outcome is well known--becomes whether trouper Gloria will walk again, let alone sing or trip the not-so-light-fantastic she'd tripped busily around the world well past the exhaustion Emilio's heavy scheduling demanded.
As the two acts dutifully fill in the Gloria and Emilio tale, there are obligatory scenelets of the ambitious couple, plus even Consuelo, trying to get the singer's early releases played on the air and at dance clubs. At the same time, they believe that Gloria should sing in English but face resistance from music industry cognoscenti who want her to stay in the Latin market Emilio and she have cultivated so strongly. One of those needing to be convinced is record-exec associate Phil (Lee Zarrett). Other naysayers are club owners who either categorize soon-to-be-monster-click "Congo" as too Americanized or too Latin.
It's then, by the way, that Emilio utters one of the script's most insightful lines. He notes that too many record people think they're being original by copying what's already climbed to chart tops, even as they fail to understand the truly original release is something heading in directions not previously explored.
The impetus for his observation is Estefan's click "Conga," which Enrique E. Garcia wrote--not, as many might assume, Gloria and Emilio. Plenty of the others reprised--the On Your Feet! score includes 26 songs--are Emilio and Gloria M. Estefan songs or only Gloria M Estefan songs or songs, like "Reach," which Gloria wrote with Diane Warren.
This means that few, if any, Estefan idolizers will be disappointed at the inclusions. Yes, "Rhythm is Gonna Get You," "Everlasting Love" (Buzz Cason and Mac Gayden), and, of course "Get on Your Feet" (Clay Ostwald, Jorge Casas, John De Faria) are present and elaborately accounted for. After a while, though, spectators may come to think the high-powered productions made of them in Esosa's flashy, flashier and flashiest costumes are beginning to weigh down the proceedings.
Every once in a while, the dancers are encouraged to remain in the wings so that solos and duets in which genuine emotions surface can be given free rein. Although Gloria and Emilio feature in a few of those, the most effective sequence has the long battling Emilio and mom Gloria reconciling their differences with "If I Never Got to Tell You" (Gloria M. Estefan and Emily Estefan). Whether this rapprochement ever took place as shown may be questionable, but as it occurs it's a sure-fire tearjerker.
With savvy contributions by set designer David (last week it was Sylvia) Rockwell, lighting design by Kenneth Posner, constantly attention-getting sound design by SCK Sound Design, projection design by Darrel Maloney and wig and hair design by Charles G. LaPointe, the Gloria and Emilio replay of their lives together--and well supervised by them, you can be sure--is exactly as commercial as they want it to be.
More than that, has any musical ever encouraged a curtain-call standing ovation more than this one, operating, as it does, under the title On Your Feet!?

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