Photo by DJ Corey.
It’s hard to imagine a more dynamic and joyous musical team than Emilio and Gloria Estefan, the shared subjects of On Your Feet! The inspiring musical, onstage now at the Durham Performing Arts Center, features a book by Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and a score comprised of the Estefan’s iconic songs. Through the music, their inspirational, empowering story is brought to life.
The show, which spans multiple decades, begins at a 1990 concert before jumping back in time to Gloria’s childhood and young adult days. Her life in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood roars onto the stage in a flurry of color and movement. Featuring flashing lights, larger-than-life dance numbers, and incredible music, these early scenes set the bar high and are representative of the infectious energy present throughout the production.
The action picks up quickly as Gloria (Kristen Tarragó) is introduced to the person who will forever alter her trajectory, Emilio Estefan (Samuel Garnica). At the urging of Gloria's grandmother, Consuelo (Adela Romero) and to the chagrin of her mother (Camila Aldet), the two embark on a musical journey that will change both their lives and the music industry.
As Gloria and Emilio build their relationship and their careers, they face down many challenges and prejudices. And, even after they’ve reached the top, yet another test awaits. When Gloria is involved in a serious, almost deadly accident, she has to find the strength to rise once again.
A testament to the power of love and of the human spirit, their story teems with feel-good energy, made stronger by the incredible production values. Clifton Chadick’s colorful set design and Jeannette Christensen’s costumes and vintage fashions add a sparkling visual appeal, while Luis Salgado’s direction moves the story along smoothly. It is Salgado’s choreography, however, that really takes center stage. Blending dance styles in the same way Gloria and Emilio combine musical genres, he creates movement that sizzles with energy and keeps viewers alert, awake, and excited, a perfect complement to the lively, toe-tapping score. In fact, appropriately enough, audience members will want to get “on their feet” and dance along, which they are invited to do during the last big musical number.
As the music carries viewers from one engaging scene to the next, Tarragó creates a plucky, strong Gloria worth rooting for. Similarly, Garnica makes for a handsome, charming Emilio, and both stars display incredible musical prowess and an uncanny ability to sound like the legends they’re portraying. Romero steals the show more than once with her playful, mischievous portrayal of Consuelo, and Aldet adds just the right cynical-but-loving air in her turn as Gloria’s mother.
Long-time fans of Gloria and Emilio will find plenty to love here, while newcomers to their sound and their legacy will leave just as interested and invested. And, without a doubt, absolutely everyone will walk away inspired. This feel-good musical is the perfect way to liven up a night and quell the winter woes. However, it only runs for one more night, so catch the rhythm and “turn the beat around” while you can.
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