Quick Change Reviews - On Your Feet (Tour)
Just like their music, the journey of the bio-musical of Gloria and Emilio Estefan took a few years to make waves in England. After a successful stint on Broadway from 2015, where it ran for two years and scooped the Tony for best choreography, the musical made its way to Curve for a preview, then to the West End for a summer season before heading out on tour.
We first meet Gloria and Emilio backstage before the start of a concert as they tell their son, Nayib, to complete his homework before opening with the chart-topping ‘Rhythm Is Gonna Get You’. An energetic, powerful start launches us into the world of the Estefans and their groundbreaking contribution to music. In a flashback we gain insight into Gloria’s childhood of speaking and singing to her father, fighting in the Vietnam war, through a crackly radio before watching her grow up in Miami where the family fled during the Cuban Revolution. Here, we see her writing songs to perform with her sister, beginning her degree in Psychology and then being introduced to Emilio, who is part of a musical group named Miami Latin Boys, by her grandmother. Gloria’s humble beginnings are lightly brushed during the show. Whilst we briefly see her caring for her father, who returned from the war with multiple sclerosis, and snippets of a fractured relationship with her mother who we learn may have been envious of her daughter’s career in music as she sacrificed her own, there’s little to relate the Latin flavour of the music we hear back. A minimal stage featuring a green screen and clunky furniture entering from both sides of the stage leaves much to the imagination. When adorned with vibrant and truly excellent dancers completing complicated traditional, quick footed and passionate choreography, you can’t help but imagine the true vision this production could have been in order to really transport an audience to the Little Havana neighbourhood. That said, the fashion of the company is awe-inspiring with sugar sweet colour dresses and suits, glamorous club cabaret gowns, to mom jeans and tank tops, they glow as the eras pass by and their location changes.
As Emilio and Gloria’s relationship flourishes, they grow as artists learning how to dance and write music as a duo, leading to a change in the group name and the legendary beginnings of Miami Sound Machine. Seeing the two become closer is sweet as they coordinate their characteristics with subtle smiles and glances to one another and the chemistry within the musical numbers is truly believable. However, this is more kudos to the actors than the writing as the story skims their marriage and birthing of children to instead focus more on the music industry and the Estefan’s battle to be heard within it. The tenaciousness of the two shines through as they fight against gripes of being “too Latin” for some markets and “too English” for others whilst maintaining their roots and rich heritage.
During the second half, we see Gloria’s relationship with her mother exhaust as she becomes more and more exhausted from her world tour and reluctantly agrees to perform an extra date. On the way there, the tour bus crashes and she suffers a break in her back. The accident unites the family back together and highlights the power within Estefan as she pushes herself through rehabilitation. Closing on her performance at the American Music Awards, the moment is poignant and a touching tribute to the work she had dedicated herself to her entire life.
Star of the show
Karen Mann wonderfully portrayed Gloria’s grandmother, Consuelo. Attributed as the person who pushed Estefan to pursue her dreams of singing, Consuelo brings warmth and tenderness to the production. Her humorous role is charming as she dances on the sidelines in support of her granddaughter and champions the relationship between Emilio and Gloria. Mann’s performance is memorable and heartwarming.
Lighting is cleverly used to create an atmosphere on the otherwise dark and empty backdrop. There is a blue tint to the cooler scenes, before turning warmer with reds and oranges as fire ignites in the run up to and performance of a song. We feel this most towards the end of Act 1 when Gloria writes the iconic track, ‘Conga’, in retaliation to a disastrous meeting with their label executive, Phil. In a hilarious and high energy montage scene we see the pair handing records to every DJ in town, on radio and in clubs, to get ‘Conga’ playlisted. In a bid to “bring Phil to the song” Gloria performs it at a Bar Mitzvah, then at an Italian wedding and finally a Shriner’s convention in Las Vegas. The fusion of people of different ages and from different cultures enjoying the infectious song together, led by a fantastic ten piece band, resorts in an irresistible party that has everybody shimmying in their seats and nods to the influence that the song has had on music.
Pay close attention to
Amongst often sharp conversations regarding race, immigration, family values and mourning, there are comedic elements that are not placed front and centre. They require a close ear and eye to the performers as each develop their character in subtle ways. Have a listen to the cast recording, it includes elements of the script to enjoy over and over.
Pulls on the heartstring
Estefan’s mother, portrayed by Madalena Alberto, wears a difficult shell to break through. Though as the story develops, she begins to melt. There are tender moments between Gloria and her husband, in which she tells him of their daughter’s success; something we realise she would never say directly, and reminisces about when he was well. Whilst sat beside José, she desperately tries to remember the name of a guy that they both used to watch on the TV together. A simple moment provides a glimpse of her clinging onto the smaller moments of the past, giving insight as to why she is hesitant to let her daughter travel and scared of losing her grandchildren. A flashback from Consuelo depicts a glamorous performance of ‘Mi Tierra’, by Gloria in a club. The romantic love song to Cuba swells with orchestral rhythm and bittersweet pain as during the performance she learns she has to flee her homeland without her love.
Best musical number
‘1-2-3’ marks a place in the show where things really start to pick up. The fizzling pop song turns mouths into an upward smile as Gloria learns to dance with her full attention on impressing Emilio. With lovely harmony, the song smoothes into ‘I See Your Smile’, where he reciprocates the feeling. Joining together for the second verse, the couple’s first duet is a vow of support that has you fully backing our stars, whilst seeing them.
One to watch
Philippa Stefani (In The Heights, Rent) portrayed Gloria Estefan with an elegant innocence. Throughout her performance, Stefani grew with Estefan. She took her from being a naive and shy child, curious about the world and where she stood in it, to an enthusiastic teenager with excited giddiness for the future, to an angry and powerful woman with a burning desire to do more and achieve more for her family. The vocal depth and energy of her performances crossed with her choreographic prowess making her a vision to watch. Her rendition of ‘Famous’ was almost a lullaby, sang so lovely with a vulnerable foreboding. Stefani went from strength to strength.