(MILLBURN, NJ) -- Everybody, up on your feet, hands in the air, hips grinding, body bouncing. It's time for On Your Feet: the Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, a romping, stomping musical about the lives of Latino singer Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio, who shook up the American music world with a string of Latino beat hits in the 1980s and a sensational stage show that played around the world.
In 1986, a friend took my late wife and I to see the Estefan’s band, the Miami Sound Machine, in Atlantic City. I never saw or heard anything like the band and marveled at the gyrations and angelic voice of Gloria, who brought down the house, and the sky above it, the night I was there.
The Estefans’ story is told with great power and finesse, and lots of gorgeous music, in On Your Feet, that opened last weekend at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn. What makes the show so special is that it is not a traditional musical, at all. It is a drama about the Estefans’ lives with a lot of music in it. That makes a big difference. The second act, as an example, is as somber as the first act is all through the roof and touch the stars music.
The show, which played in New York a few years ago is really a tribute to Gloria, the gifted Cuban born singer, who started singing with street groups at 14 and joined Estefan’s band as a 19 year old teenager. She wrote songs for the band and sang the songs of others in a glorious career that simply skyrocketed in the mid-1980s. Her top song, Conga, was played everywhere - concert halls, television snow, radio shows. Hell, you could hear it at gas stations on rural highways.
One hit followed another - Get On Your Feet, 1-2-3, Anything for You. The Miami Sound Machine had eleven top ten hits. Gloria won seven Grammy Awards, She has been inducted in to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, won a Presidential Medal of Freedom Award in 2015 and sold 75 million records. Gloria was IT in the very competitive music world.
Then came the horrible bus crash outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania, that nearly killed Her. Gloria’ tour bus collided with a big truck. She was flown to New York City for a nine hour operation that saved her life. She then went through a year of painful physical rehab and re-emerged on the music scene as a guest performer at the American Music Awards in 1991 and resumed her career and still performs.
The musical On Your Feet, that opened last weekend, starts covering her story when she was a kid in Cuba. She sang with pickup bands and then moved to Miami with her family. She was a smart kid, National Honor Society and went to the University of Miami. She met Esteban at a rehearsal and fell in love with him. He worked as her general manager and record producer and was her inspiration.
All of that is chronicled in the play, but her relationship with her mother, a singer in Cuba, and other members of her family is shown, too, and the troubles they all had moving to Florida and their life in America. The play puts a spotlight on that life. Gloria Estefan was the immigrant American Dream. She worked hard, stayed out of trouble and did the right things. Success followed. Of course, she also had enormous musical talents, all of which are displayed in the musical.
The show puts a long spotlight on her husband, Emilio, showing how he managed her to the top of the Latin music charts but then, in the supreme crossover, made her a big star in American music, too. The play shows how he gloried in the success of his wife and the Miami Sound Machine but also the dirty work involved in show business and how difficult it was for him to get record producers to take on Gloria and her projects over the years.
The spotlight is on her family, too, and how they fight with each other over Gloria. Success takes you away from your family, so is that a good thing? They bicker over Gloria’s taking family members on tours with her, their introduction to a world of musicians and travel. Her story is like the story of many immigrants, in many fields, who work hard and succeed in America.
It is also a look, lower case, at the breakthrough of the band, and others, in American music, bringing the Latino beata to the Top Forty.
On Your Feet is a showcase for the many talented of Linedy Genao, who plays Gloria and give one of the best performances I have ever seen. She plays her as aa musical superstar and fan favorite, but also a loving mom and wife. Brandon Espinoza is equally effective as her husband, Emilio, who holds her hand as they travel through their musical adventure together. Other fine performances are by Francisca Munoz as Gloria’s mom, Yajaira Paredes as Consuelo, Olivia Andrade-Marin and Natalia Artigas alternating as 14 year old Gloria/ They are joined by more than a dozen other talented actors.
On Your Feet is marvelously directed by Alex Sanchez, who also does the choreography. He gives you all of that music and dance, beautiful, but never loses sight of the story. Andrew David Sotomayor provides the musical direction.
The show’s book is by Alexander Dinelaris, Scenic design is by David Rockwell, Costumes are by Emilio Sosa, Lighting by Charlie Morrison and sound by Matt Kraus Projection design is by Darrel Maloney.
Again, get on your feet and see this musical. You will rock the night away.
On Your Feet runs at Paper Mill Playhouse (22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, New Jersey) throuh November 6, 2022.
PHOTOS - the first 3 by Daniel Rader and the last 3 by Jeremy Daniel