As far back as I can remember, music has been a huge part of my life.
Church choir. Recorder. School chorus. Band. Piano lessons. Handbells.
For the longest time I thought I wanted to become a middle school band director. For various reasons I went a different path, but music has continued to be a part of my life.
The power a song can have to encourage you. To take you back to another time. To push you forward. To speak to and for you. It’s really unlike anything else for me.
For me, music is such a part of my life I am not always consciously aware of it until something brings it to the forefront.
Such was the case when I first went to see “On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan” back in February.
I was aware that the show was happening. I’d seen the ads on buses and around town. But I will freely admit that I’m not typically one for “jukebox musicals”, so I never really looked into it, assuming that’s what it was.
I would soon find out how wrong I was.
It was during our Presidents’ Week break, and I decided to pretty much enter almost every show lottery. “On Your Feet!” was the first one to close and notify – I had won a ticket and had 60 minutes to purchase it. Which meant I was figuring that I wouldn’t win anything else if I bought it. (A pretty safe bet with “Hamilton” but not necessarily so much with the others.)
Given that it was kind of a random entry, I asked my friends on FaceBook if any of them had seen it and if so what they thought. One of my friends who sees pretty much everything said that she had enjoyed it more than she anticipated, so I bought the ticket and went.
And was hooked from the opening scenes.
It is not your “typical” jukebox musical at all. Yes, it is all (with one exception – which is a new song co-written by Gloria and her daughter Emily) music from Gloria and the Miami Sound Machine’s catalog, but rather than building a story around the songs (a la “Mamma Mia!”) the songs are interwoven into the story of Gloria and Emilio’s life. And while the story is specific to them, the overarching themes are universal.
Gloria is brilliantly played by Ana Villafañe.
She sounds uncannily like Gloria, especially when singing. I’ve heard more than one person say “I could have sworn she was lip-synching”.
The first Emilio I was was Josh Segarra
who was great.
Emilio is currently played by Ektor Rivera
who has brought a whole other dimension to Emilio.
As the title implies, the story is theirs – obviously some things are tweaked for time and dramatic reasons, but some things have been brought in directly from their story.
The shorts. That’s all that needs to be said there. 😛
I had not realized how much of their music catalog WAS the soundtrack to my life from middle school on up. Some songs I hadn’t even realized WERE Gloria’s at the time, and some are completely new to me.
The book was written by Alexander Dinelaris, and Gloria has said in interviews about the process that she gave him full use of the music catalog. And it is really amazing how well songs from different parts of her career fit into her and Emilio’s story – obviously “Coming Out of the Dark” (which is set in its context in their lives), but also other songs and other times in their life.
For me, one of the most moving scenes is one with Gloria and her father, who at that point was completely bedridden with what was diagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis but was likely a combination of various factors. In pretty much a dream sequence, Fajardo, her father, sings a very early song of hers “When Someone Comes Into Your Life”. Almost invariably this scene brings me to tears because I grew up hearing the story of how the morning after I was born, my dad came to visit my mom and me in the hospital and told my mom he “dreamed about walking [me] down the aisle” (to which my mom said “Let her be a baby!”). I’ve said that if my parents make it up here while the show is running we WILL be coming to see it, but Daddy and I canNOT sit next to each other because it will just be uber waterworks!!
And while the story is specific to them, there are themes that resonate so strongly today… The discrimination that they faced in crossing over from the Latin music scene to the greater music scene in particular. In one scene where this is so apparent, they have been told if they want to cross over, they need to change everything – including their name. Emilio gives an impassioned response about the discrimination he and his father faced when they came to America and how he has worked and paid his taxes for 15 years finishing with “And you should look very closely to my face. Because whether you know it or not, THIS is what an American looks like!”
And that line has gotten cheers and applause every time I’ve seen the show! And rightly so!
The entire cast is stellar, and the choreography by Sergio Trujillo is authentic and yet his own.
In short, this show has touched me in a way that no show has in a long time. The music moves me, and the story touches me.
This entry was in no way solicited by anyone with the show. It’s my own doing and my own feeble attempt to say thank you to Gloria and Emilio for sharing their story; to Ana and Ektor and the rest of the cast for bringing the story to life 8 times a week and pouring their hearts and souls into it – and for opening themselves to the fans of the show. I’ve seen it 8 times so far – yes, most were through the lottery but a couple of them have been regular tickets (as are a couple of times coming up). That’s how much I believe in the show. (And trust me – 8 times is NOTHING compared to some!!) The crowd at the stage door is as varied as they come – in age and in cultural background. You don’t have to be Latino/Latina/LatinX to understand or be touched by the story – you just have to be human.
with Gloria and Emilio at Broadway Barks
with Ana and Ektor after the show one night in July
Seriously – if you’re in New York, do yourself a favor and go see this show!! It’s at the Marquis in New York. For information, check the website: On Your Feet!
The rhythm will get you too!