The chart-topping music of Gloria Estefan — heart-stirring ballads and pulsating dance tracks buoyed by traditional Cuban rhythm and beats — first with the Miami Sound Machine, and later, as a solo artist would arguably be sufficient to create a hit musical; but On Your Feet, currently playing at the Hollywood Pantages is so much more — it’s an homage to the infectious music as well as an inspiring story about dreamers, immigrants, as well as enduring romantic and familial love.
It’s hard to believe that their success almost never happened, but for their irrepressible ambition which also drove them to fight against stereotyping and hybrid expectations. After fleeing from Cuba where Gloria’s policeman father was imprisoned by Batista, and landing in Miami, Gloria is discovered by Emilio Estefan of the Miami Latin Boys who decides to instal her as their lead singer. But when no radio station will play their music, an indefatigable Emilio decides to distribute their records on the streets and beaches until the system relents. Love blossoms between the two, but Gloria’s mother, played by a stellar Nancy Ticotin, opposes their relationship as well as her daughter’s musical ambitions, partly because her own were thwarted.
But the coast is still not clear. As they attempt to grow as artists and cross over into the mainstream with their first English language song, “Dr. Beat”, record label execs resist and pigeon hole them. This yields one of the best scenes in the show, one which hits home in our current political climate which is trying hard to stigmatize immigrants as incongruous to America; Emilio stands up to the executive, points to himself and says, “Look at my face — whether you know it or not, this is what an American looks like.” Alexander Dinelaris, who wrote the book and such memorable lines, is one of the Academy Award-winning writers of Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and the Producer of The Revenant.
Christine Prades as Gloria, delivers the classic hits so consummately and with such pitch-perfect inflections, that one feels they’ve gone back in time to watch the namesake herself. As Emilio Estefan, Mauricio Martinez exudes Latin charisma and charm, and what a voice he has to go with that swagger! A feel-good extravaganza which will rekindle the dreamer in you, and guaranteed to make you cheer and dance.
— G. Dhalla.
On Your Feet is playing through July 29th at the Hollywood Pantages. Tickets HERE.