It’s 1980/1990something and I’m in the back seat of my parents’ car on a long trip to somewhere. I’m transported here by the magical time machine known as “On Your Feet!,” the Gloria and Emilio Estefan feel-good jukebox musical that’s currently playing at Playhouse Square.
Running now through December 23 at the Connor Palace, the music party is responsible for, again, gleefully transporting me back to a time in my childhood when the music of Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine dominates the radio. As each song comes from the stage, I feel like a happy kid again sitting behind my mom singing along to every word of the Cuban-fusion pop beats of “Anything For You,” “Get on Your Feet”, “Don’t Wanna Lose You,” “Conga”, “1-2-3,” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” and more.
“On Your Feet!” gives a glimpse into the life and culture of Gloria’s backstory. It shows a promising portrait of Gloria as a little girl playing her guitar, sending the song on cassette to her father stationed in Vietnam.
It gives a glimpse of teenage Gloria living with her family in Miami, following her dreams and keeping her “Tradición.” It also shows her fateful meeting with Emilio Estefan and how one song (“Anything For You”) leads to international stardom.
But fame doesn’t come without struggle, and the production also shows the toll that Gloria’s success takes on her mother. It also shows the rocky road that she and Emilio navigate to get the world to let them “cross over” from the Latin market into the English market.
Interestingly, it is also a very broad historical reminder of the intense in-person self-promotion that an artist needed in order to get music to an audience. In an era where there was no iTunes, no Facebook or Twitter, and barely an internet to speak of, artists had to physically visit radio stations and clubs to beg for airplay.
In “On Your Feet!” they also play bar mitzvahs, weddings, conferences and all sorts of other events around the nation just to get people talking. They drive down the street with their tracks playing, hoping to garner interest or to sell music from the car. Gloria and Emilio do all of this and more!
The performers are full of energy and zest. It is exhausting (in a good way) watching the dynamic vigor with which the dancers move. There’s a flair and a passion that’s invigorating to watch, and the beat is contagious!
The show also has plenty of heart and tender moments. Although the development of the love story between Gloria and Emilio is not the main focus, their bond is unbreakable. The influence of her Abuela, the memory of her father, and the disapproval of her mother all wrap themselves up into Gloria’s stardom, as well.
Finally, when Gloria’s bus collides with a truck and she is critically injured, the story brings everyone together with new hope and renewed inspiration. The songs “Higher” and “Coming Out of the Dark” are especially moving during this story line.
With concert lighting, a constantly-moving stage, and costumes of both old Havana and of 80s stage-pop, “On Your Feet” is a show full of exciting sights, exhilarating sounds, and plenty of musical nostalgia.
Special nods to the enthusiastic band that rocks the stage throughout the show, and to Christie Prades (Gloria) and Mauricio Martínez (Emilio) for making the main characters so very likeable and effervescent.
“On Your Feet!” demands your attention at the Connor Palace now through December 23. Tickets range from $29.00 to $209.00. Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes. For tickets and more info, visit www.playhousesquare.org.