Both Musically and Theatrically, ‘On Your Feet!’ at the Miracle Theatre is Spectacular
Joy, loss and unflagging determination coalesce at the heart of “On Your Feet!,” the inspiration-filled show about Miami’s musical power couple, Gloria and Emilio Estefan.
Blending biography with the extensive catalog of Gloria Estefan/Miami Sound Machine pop hits, the jukebox musical played Broadway from 2015 to 2017, then toured the country (including a weeklong stop at Miami’s Arsht Center), with additional productions in the Netherlands and on London’s West End.
But now, after a lengthy pandemic pause and a pair of smaller shows, Actors’ Playhouse has come roaring back with its own sizzling, large-scale production of “On Your Feet!” Staged with abundant insight and finesse by Miamian Andy Señor Jr., who served as associate director of the Broadway production, the show at The Miracle Theatre pulls out all the stops in celebrating artists who forged their own path to stardom.
Alexander Dinelaris, the musical’s Academy Award-winning book writer, tracks the Estefans’ inspiring success story. He also vividly illuminates the struggles faced by immigrants and exiles trying to build new lives in the United States. Gloria Estefan’s mother, Gloria Fajardo, for example, earned a Ph.D. in Cuba but had to acquire a new set of degrees in Miami to support her family – daughters Gloria and Rebecca, and husband José, a Cuban political prisoner who developed multiple sclerosis after serving in Vietnam. Before his daughter’s music career began to soar, he died at age 47.
Emilio Estefan fled Cuba as a teenager, first going to Spain where he and his father lived in poverty. They wound up in Miami where, as Emilio recalls in the show, signs posted at hotels and apartment buildings in the late 1960s read: “No Pets, No Cubans.”
Many more obstacles are highlighted in “On Your Feet!,” including Gloria Fajardo’s opposition to her multilingual daughter becoming Miami Sound Machine’s lead singer and marrying its ambitious keyboard player-producer; Emilio’s lengthy struggles to get American record companies to release songs the band recorded in English; a long estrangement from Gloria’s mother; and the horrible 1990 tour bus crash that fractured the singer’s spine.
And yet, “On Your Feet!” is a show filled with joy. Overriding everything is the couple’s enduring love story and the potent uplift of their music. As with any of the really good jukebox musicals (“Jersey Boys,” “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”), “On Your Feet!” is a blend of musical theater and concert. Both musically and theatrically, the show is spectacular.
Consider its superb band, always visible upstage center. Six of the 10 musicians led by musical director and longtime Estefan collaborator Clay Ostwald have been members of Miami Sound Machine. To say they deliver the score flawlessly isn’t hyperbole. Downstage, dazzling dancers led by choreographer Natalie Caruncho and dance captain Hector Maisonet do their thing, often at breath-taking speed.
The large cast is led by Claudia Yanez as singer-songwriter Gloria and, making his professional stage debut, Jason Canela as producer-songwriter Emilio. Both actors clearly convey the strength and determination of their Grammy Award-winning, real-life counterparts, and both dynamically interpret their songs.
Former Miamian Yanez blossoms from a teen crushing on Emilio (as the shorts-wearing founder of the Miami Latin Boys) into a wife and mother certain she knows what’s best for her family. Vocally, she shines on a gloriously long list of hits, including “1-2-3,” “Conga,” “Get on Your Feet,” “Live for Loving You” and many more.
The Hialeah-raised Canela has so far built his career in film and television, yet despite his newcomer status, seems equally at home on stage – commanding, even. He’s a fine dancer, and even better pop singer (crooning “I See Your Smile,” “Here We Are” and “Coming out of the Dark” with Yanez, a pained “Don’t Wanna Lose You” and, with Eileen Faxas as Gloria Fajardo, “If I Never Got to Tell You”), and a charismatic actor.
In addition to the leads, the talent in the Actor’s Playhouse company runs deep. Alma Cuervo, who originated her role on Broadway and performed it on tour, is an absolute treasure as Gloria’s grandmother, Consuelo, a woman with abundant wisdom and a great sense of humor. Ex-Miamian Faxas combines tempered dominance and disappointed judgment in her portrayal of Gloria Fajardo opposite ensemble member Adriel Garcia as the singer’s father, José. She sparkles in the character’s might-have- been moment in the spotlight as she sings “Mi Tierra.” Katerina Morin sings appealingly in Spanish as young Gloria, while flashy dancer Zachary Roy plays the young Emilio and the Estefans’ son, Nayib.
Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients in 2015, the Estefans – who attending the opening night of the performance – are continuing their multifaceted careers as artists and entrepreneurs. Gloria Estefan, who became the first Cuban-American Kennedy Center honoree in 2017, will next be seen onscreen in the remake of “Father of the Bride” opposite longtime friend Andy Garcia.
“On Your Feet”
Actors’ Playhouse, Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile
8 Pm Wed.-fri., 2 Pm & 8 Pm Sat., 3 Pm Sun., Through March 13
$55-$85 (Seniors 65+ Get 10 Percent Off on Weekdays)
Masks and Proof of Vaccination or a Recent Negative Covid-19 Test Are Required
For Information & Tickets:
Actorsplayhouse.org or Call 305-444-9293
*Photos by Alberto Romeu