“On Your Feet” Is An Inspiring Look At Two Latin Music Icons
Any fans of the performers alluded to in the full title of On Your Feet! The Story Of Gloria And Emilio Estefan will find much to appreciate in this fun-filled celebration of their musical stylings and inspiring lives. So will those who had a good time at similarly spirited bio-jukebox musicals that have graced the stage at the Kravis Center, like last May’s Donna Summer extravaganza, or those who are simply in the mood for a catchy tune and a compelling story.
Though Emilio is naturally a key character, it’s Gloria who is more clearly the protagonist here and whose trajectory we trace more fully. After giving us a glimpse of her childhood as a Miami immigrant, the show introduces us to her as a shy psychology student. Gaby Albo excels in portraying both this innocent, down to earth Gloria and the later version of the star in all her diva glory.
Gloria’s life changes forever when she is discovered by Emilio, displayed in a performance of the sweet and touching “Anything for You.” Despite the objections of Gloria Fajardo, mother to the younger Gloria, the two begin to make music together, with Gloria joining the band that was then known as the Miami Latin Boys and eventually became the Miami Sound Machine.
Soon enough, Gloria and Emilio’s story also becomes a love story, though Fajardo is just as opposed to their romance as to her daughter’s dreams of stardom. A suggestion by Fajardo’s own mother (the younger Gloria’s abuela) that jealousy based on her own dashed dreams may have been part of the reason why is the impetus for a flashback to a younger Fajardo’s stunning performance of “Mi Tierra” in Havana, one of the musical’s many memorable dance numbers.
Giving further context to Fajardo’s resentment and to her desire for her daughter to stay close to home, her husband, José Fajardo, is almost completely paralyzed due to his having developed multiple sclerosis. Tragically, it is thought that Fajardo’s development of this disease may have been caused by his exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, though the connection between the two events is only alluded to in the musical.
Over the course of the play, you’ll also get to hear famed Estefan hits like “Conga,” “Rhythm is Gonna Get You,” and, of course, the titular “Get On Your Feet.” Yet it wasn’t a smooth road to success and name recognization for the powerful duo; aside from the obstacle of parental disapproval, the two also must battle discrimination from higher ups in the music business before they can cross over from the Latin market into the mainstream. However, between their talent and their commitment to putting in the legwork it will take them to get noticed even if that means playing at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, the two are indeed able to top the charts.
Though the duo’s path to fame may be a foregone conclusion for anyone who knows their history, it’s still tremendously fun to watch them walk it, and there are plenty of moving moments interspersed with the flashier dance numbers. For instance, a monologue in which Emilio articulates how his identity has been shaped by his family history and a moment in which Gloria fantasizes about her incapacitated father arising to deliver her advice, are both genuinely touching.
But perhaps the musical’s darkest and most powerful moments are the ones that take place after Gloria is seriously injured in a catastrophic bus accident, prompting her loved ones to reflect on how much she means to them and prompting her to reflect on the trauma of watching that father’s physical decline and her fears of being sentenced to a similar infirmity.
“When I was taking care of him, do you know what I was most afraid of? I was afraid he wouldn’t die. That he would be trapped in that body for eternity. I would look into his eyes and I could see how sad he was,” she says.
Though she must use the same steely determination that took her to the top of the music industry to rebuild her strength, the fact that her story has a triumphant, uplifting ending should also be no surprise to most of the audience.
Aside from the aforementioned Albo, there are plenty of other incredible actors showcased in On Your Feet, including Samuel Garcia as Emilio, Francisa Tapia as Gloria Fajardo, and Adriel Orlando Garcia as José Fajardo. A hard working ensemble is also giving their all to rise to the occasion of the demanding choreography alluded to in the show’s title, though much of the audience was on their feet as well by the time the actors made it to their curtain call “mega-mix.” So, if you think this sounds like a good time, you have until November 20th to catch On Your Feet at the Kravis before this touring production is up and on to its next destination!