By Yanniv Frank
“Rhythm is Gonna Get You” when you see On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan on Broadway at the Marquis Theater. This thrilling story of two Latin musicians’ efforts to cross over into the American music industry will bring you to laughter, to tears, and to your feet; before the night is over, you will be dancing down the aisles! Seriously – during the Act I finale, the company invites the audience to join them in a conga line out of the theater.
Walking into the theater, housed in the Marquis Hotel in Times Square, I was skeptical. I had heard mixed reviews about the show. While this was my second time winning lottery tickets to the musical, this was my first time actually seeing it. The first time I won, my brother went in my place, and he absolutely loved the show. He could not stop raving about the beauty and Latin aspects of the production. However, almost every review that I read criticized the show, which received only one nomination for the 2016 Tony Awards.
In the first 30 minutes of Act I, I agreed with the reviews, not my brother. The show seemed like an awful attempt to squeeze as many Gloria Estefan songs onto a stage as possible without calling the musical a concert. The constant stream of songs that did not further the plot made a bad first impression.
Yet, as the plot line progressed and began discussing the American music business, the show burst into a dramatic experience about children of immigrants living the American dream. The crowd erupted into applause when a record producer told Emilio that he would not succeed because their band did not look like all Americans, and Emilio responded in a thick Cuban accent, “This is what an American looks like.”
From then on, I understood why my brother loved the show so much. The music picked up, and the actors burst into catchy tunes such as “123” and of course “Conga,” and the plot also became more exciting as the Estefans rose to fame.
What seemed to be a strictly feel-good, fun show took a turn when the Estefans’ “Miami Sound Machine” tour bus crashed, leaving Gloria in critical condition. Her struggle with her new physical restrictions sparks true heartbreak in this otherwise exclusively fun musical.
Ana Villafañe’s flawless portrayal of Gloria’s attitude and voice perfectly complimented Ektor Rivera’s loving and compassionate Emilio. Other cast members include Andréa Burns as Gloria’s overprotective mother, Alma Cuervo as Gloria’s free spirited Abuela, along with Eliseo Roman, Genny Lis Padilla, Alexandria Suarez, and Eduardo Hernandez.
One small touch that made the show that much more enjoyable for me was the lack of a list of songs in chronological order in the Playbill. Without the presence of this list, I could put all of my focus on the performance and ignore how many songs were left in the act. I think all shows should adopt this practice. It makes going to the theater a more “in the moment” experience, rather than worrying about what one might need to do after the X number of songs left.
What started out as a slow-paced, bland attempt at bringing pop music to the theater turned out to be an exciting upbeat musical experience bursting with Latin flavor.
On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan is currently playing at the Marquis Theater on 46th Street. Tickets can be purchased either through Ticketmaster, Broadway.com, or the TodayTix app available on iOS and Android devices.