The second half is better than the first in On Your Feet! A New Musical (to give it its full title) – which makes perfect sense given the chronological order of the storyline, starting with Gloria Estefan (Philippa Stefani) before she was even discovered by Emilio (George Ioannides) whilst still living at home in Miami, Florida – her family having left Havana to escape the worst effects of the Cuban Revolution. Naturally, when the Miami Sound Machine, the Latin music band founded by Emilio, had just started out, the gigs were small and the best compositions and hits in the Estefan repertoire were still to come.
Therefore, as I started by saying, Act Two is even better than Act One, because the production does well to ramp practically everything up to reflect the bigger venues and the Billboard-topping tunes. It would take someone more knowledgeable with regards to Estefan’s discography than your reviewer to verify either way whether the order of the musical numbers in the narrative matches the order in which they were released. I suspect not, though it is hardly the salient point in this feelgood production.
A jukebox musical, yes, though Estefan’s knowledgeable fanbase probably won’t learn anything new no matter how much detail Alexander Dinelaris’ book contains (and there is a decent amount, for the record). Estefan’s mother, Gloria Fajardo (Madalena Alberto) does not exactly approve of Estefan’s new lifestyle – constantly touring and performing live gigs keeps Estefan away from home for far longer than her mother would like. Estefan’s grandmother Consuelo (Hollie Cassar at the performance I attended, understudying for Karen Mann) puts her own daughter’s objections in context. Relative to the hard-hitting – in more ways than one – narrative in Tina, the musical about the life of Tina Turner – Estefan had it easy.
That isn’t to say there aren’t issues to be worked through and ambitions that could have been thwarted by, for instance, stubborn record producers who aren’t on board with Gloria and Emilio’s ambitions. Added to this, a childhood promise on Young Emilio’s (Nathan Zammit) part to his family that he will see to it they will be able to escape Cuba and start a new life in Miami just as he has done adds a layer of poignancy. Triumph over adversity, then, especially when Estefan’s tour bus was involved in a road traffic collision. The resulting physiotherapy, which itself could not start until her condition had sufficiently improved post-surgery, was portrayed here as a long, arduous and testing time for her, and thus it is somewhat surprising, at the risk of giving too much of the plot away, that she was only shown some of the encouraging letters of support from her fans after some months.
The choreography (Sergio Trujillo) is often energetic, whilst the style of music is far from relentlessly upbeat, particularly in the second half, with songs like ‘If I Never Got To Tell You’, ‘Don’t Wanna Lose You’ and the ‘comeback’ number, ‘Coming Out of the Dark’ being of a more reflective nature. For those who prefer the pacier rhythms, there’s an extended finale to look forward to. Members of the audience can even join an actual conga line just before the interval – I suspect the idea was that they would conga straight into the bar, though this didn’t quite work out at the performance I attended.
It was also a pity that a large set of speakers obscured the view of proceedings from stage right, at least from my vantage point. A seven-strong band led by Danny Belton sits on-stage – which suits the portrayal of various gigs and ‘world tours’ Estefan embarked on. ‘Rhythm Is Gonna Get You’ in this charming and sparkling production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Her voice. His vision. Their story.
Direct from London and featuring many of the original West End cast, this ‘exhilarating extravaganza’ (Whatsonstage) is the inspiring true love story of Emilio and Gloria and charts their journey from its origins in Cuba, onto the streets of Miami and finally to international superstardom. Featuring all of their smash hits including ‘Rhythm Is Gonna Get You’, ‘Conga’, ‘Get On Your Feet’, ‘Don’t Want To Lose You Now’ ‘Dr. Beat’ and ‘1-2-3’.
Starring Philippa Stefani (RENT, In the Heights, Grease), as Gloria Estefan, George Ioannides (Annie, Mamma Mia!, An Officer and a Gentleman) as Emilio Estefan, Madalena Alberto (Evita, Cats, Les Misérables) as Gloria Fajardo and Karen Mann (Sister Act, Fiddler on the Roof, Sweeney Todd) as Consuelo.
Completing the cast will be Sharif Afifi, Hollie Cassar, Francisco Del Solar, Laura Friedrich Tejero, Francesca Lara Gordon, Yonly Leyva Desdunes, Olivia Kate Holding, Elia Lo Tauro, Gabriella-Rose Marchant, Martin McCarthy, Alicia Mencía, Ciro Lourencio Meulens, Clayton Rosa, Julia Ruiz Fernandez, Slaap, Dawnita Smith, Despina Violari, Nathan Zammit and Alain Zambrana Borges.
ON YOUR FEET! UK TOUR LISTINGS 2020 continuing…
24 – 29 February
New Wimbledon Theatre
2 – 7 March
Glasgow Kings Theatre
10 -14 March
Aberdeen, Her Majesty’s Theatre
17 – 22 March
Wolverhampton Grand Theatre
23 – 28 March
Leeds Grand Theatre
31 March – 4 April
Southampton Mayflower Theatre
14 – 18 April
Newcastle Theatre Royal
27 April – 2 May
Hull New Theatre
*With further West End dates to be confirmed