Politics may have played a key role in driving the future Gloria Estefan from her home in Cuba and positioning her for eventual world acclaim in Miami. But politics hardly merit an “air guitar” solo in all the rhythmic bounce and flash that is On Your Feet!, the Broadway show based on Estefan’s Grammy-laden career with the Miami Sound Machine.
The 2015 New York hit is currently energizing audiences with an all-pro touring production handsomely set up in Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre.
The New York Times dubbed On Your Feet! a Latino jukebox musical, but the book fashioned by Alexander Dinelaris is more a bow to a long tradition of showbiz yarns. All the infectious Cuban-fusion pop songs created by the singer and fellow Cuban émigré, Emilio Estefan, are hung upon a basic mother-daughter conflict — sort of the anti-Gypsy. Here the bitter “stage mother” spends most of her time trying to talk her daughter into giving up the stage.
Subtitled The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical, the show is far more interested in shaking booties than ruffling any feathers. Act One documents the against-all-odds climb to the top. Act Two includes the near-tragic bus accident that might have been the end of the road for a less determined individual.
Director Jerry Mitchell, who has been guiding the show since its pre-Broadway stagings, has perfected his alchemy of assembling the right cast.
Christie Prades is a veteran of In the Heights and was part of the Broadway cast of On Your Feet! Here she steps confidently into the energetic role of Gloria Estefan, selling the songs and dancing as passionately as she serves up all the drama and romance. She is especially winning in the ballads, delivering the heartfelt sentiments of “Here We Are” and the closing “Coming Out of the Dark.”
Playing Gloria’s musical Svengali and eventual husband, Mauricio Martinez makes an impossibly good-looking and all but flawless Emilio. Oh, yes, he might get a word of English wrong once in a while, but only in the interest of promoting Gloria’s talent. His singing also befits a leading man, rising to the challenges of “I See Your Smile” and “Don’t Want to Lose You.”
The evening’s most touching musical moments, though, come surprisingly from its two supporting leads.
As Gloria’s heroic father, stricken with multiple sclerosis after fleeing Cuba and serving with U.S. forces in Vietnam, Jason Martinez inspires his daughter to rally from her injuries with the tender solo “Wrapped.”
Doreen Montalvo as Gloria’s mother also gets her moment to shine and touch us in a flashback to her own performing past (“Mi Tierra”) and then as an apologetic mother in “If I Never Got to Tell You.”
All the members of a very large cast acquit themselves well here. Special mention should be made of Debra Cardona as Gloria’s wise grandmother, and young Carlos Carreras as a variety of scene-stealing youngsters.
The constantly eye-catching dance by the show’s Tony-winning choreographer, Sergio Trujillo, is guaranteed to compel an audience to do as suggested and end the evening On Your Feet!
Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes, with one 10-minute intermission.
On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical plays through June 10, 2018, at the Hippodrome Theatre at The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw Street, Baltimore. For tickets, call 800-343-3103 or go online.