“Whether you like it or not, this is the face of America.”
Those words resonated with me and took me back to the summer of 2003 when I was 19 years old and had just arrived to this country. The immense pressure to assimilate that this society puts onto you was in direct contrast against my Caribbean pride. For a long time I let people make fun of my culture, dismiss others, and let myself forget who I was, in order to fit with those around me. It took me some time to realize how important my heritage was. And when I sat at the Marquis, watching the new music based on Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s rise to prominence “On Your Feet,” I wasn’t alone. Right with me was that 19 year old, and he was dancing with me the whole time. Celebrating our roots, shamelessly, happy.
Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s story is one that is well documented. Their music, even more known. That still won’t spoil the thrill that is watching “On Your Feet.” The musical, written by Alexander Dinelaris and directed by Jerry Mitchell, burst onto stage with a special kind of energy. One that is addicting and lures you in like no other. The sounds of the Caribbean fusing with the American music, created a story and closed a division. And as audience members, we are there together. Everyone is on the same page. Everyone moving their hips. Everyone is dazzled by the incredible choreography by Sergio Trujillo. Falling in love with the two stubborn people that do not let the other give up on themselves or their dreams. We are there with them. We root for them. We want them to win at the end even though we know they already won. The story we know, it doesn’t matter. From the first note that is played, we forget it and we want to enjoy it like it’s the first time we are hearing it.
Many skeptics will talk about the book being thin. About how the story is nothing compared to the music. We hear this so many times about Broadway musicals. All glam, no substance. Their story is by now perfectly by the numbers. A success story from a template. But they were the ones that live that template. They were the ones that made movie dreams into music realities. But those skeptics will be right. It is a lot of glam. But they are also wrong. You see the substance is in the glam. The book might be charming enough to be serviceable, but the story is not being built or told in the book, or the dances. It’s in the rhythm. It’s in the music. Caribbean bards will use musicality to tell their tales. It is in that afro sound that accompanies almost every step we take. We sing to ourselves when nobody is around. We dance. We enjoy the suffering because we forget it with the dancing. And that’s what this musical does. It shows you the struggle, and it lives it through each number. It transport us to their time, to make us realize our shortcomings in our times. It also shows us how far we’ve come.
Ana Villafañe portrays Gloria Estefan like she is Gloria Estefan. She will melt your heart the moment she comes onto stage, and she will make you believe you are in a real concert at one of those venues she plays around the world. You fall in love with her, and because of her, you fall in love with Emilio. Josh, while entirely dedicated and lovable as he is as Emilio, falls short compared to the rest of the cast. He seemed to be struggling with the accent, a fact made more obvious by the authenticity of how the other performers sound. His acting was good, and he was somebody you surely can get behind, but so much more could have been done there. Especially Andrea Burns, who gives us the most powerful scenes when she is with Ana on stage.
The dialogue quoted at the start of this review stirred up the whole audience. A whole audience full of white people. White people that were agreeing with the son of Cuban immigrants that was telling one person this, while at the same time telling us all. Telling us all in the Marquis theater, on a Broadway stage. And judging by the applause, people are starting to realize this. It might have taken 30 years, but there I was, in a crowd full of Q-Tips (before you get offended, this is a reference to the show, ) jumping up and down and they were accepting this as normal. We are not quite there yet as a society, but because of them, we are a bit closer.
“On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan” is at home on The Marquis Theatre. I recommend you to start making plans to see it.
Our of 4 stars:
Sponsored by The 7th Chamber
Twisted Talk: Have you seen “On Your Feet?” What’s the last Broadway show you’ve seen? Discuss below!