Chicago Theatre Review
The Rhythm is Gonna Get You!
On Your Feet – Broadway in Chicago
Gloria Estefan, the wonderfully talented Cuban American singer, songwriter and actress, became known to the worlas the lead singer of the popular recording group, the Miami Sound Machine. Through this big, splashy, song and dance-filled production, now treating Chicago audiences with its pre-Broadway tryout prior to a fall opening in New York, we are reminded of the road Gloria and Emilio Estefan traveled on their journey to mega success. Brimming with colorful, memorable characters, a hot Latin beat and poignant ballads, this infectious new show is at its best when the rhythm is gonna get you.
Inventively directed by talented Tony Award winning director and choreographer, Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde), and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys, Memphis), this biographical jukebox musical is a feast of music and dance. It features many of Ms. Estefan’s best-loved hits, performed by Ana Villafane as Gloria and Josh Segarra as Emilio, and backed by an ensemble of handsome and talented singers, dancers and musicians. Primarily a film and TV actress, the stunningly beautiful Ms. Villafane’s performance seems effortless. Her exquisite vocal and dancing talent, as well as her honest dramatic portrayal of Gloria from teenager to young mother, make her the perfect leading lady for this production. Ms. Villafane looks and sounds so much like Gloria Estefan, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in this role. The strikingly handsome Josh Segarra, as Emilio Estefan, oozes charisma and charm. One easily understands why Gloria fell in love with this kind, caring man, whom she called her “first and only true love.” While Mr. Segarra has a smooth, pleasing singing voice he’s more of a crooner. His solos and duets are pleasant but his velvety sound doesn’t allow the lyrics to pop. With Mr. Segarra’s previous credits, this should be an easy fix before the show opens later on Broadway.
What could use some work, however, is the book, written by Alexander Dinelaris. A Golden Globe and Academy Award-winning screenwriter for “Birdman,” Mr. Dinelaris’ book is gentle and wisely focuses on Gloria and Emilio’s close-knit families. The problem is the story feels unbalanced. The show is infectious but it’s difficult to find its heart. The script bounces around in time, glossing over certain key plot elements while devoting more time to others.
The musical is bookended by the traumatic, life-changing bus accident that almost killed the singing star. It left Gloria Estefan paralyzed with a spinal injury that resulted in a touch-and-go, nine-hour surgery, followed by months and months of painful physical therapy. Remarkably, the talented and driven Ms. Estefan eventually recovered and performed at the American Music Awards, at Dick Clark’s request and with a big push by her loving husband, Emilio. Receiving a standing ovation, Ms. Estefan premiered “Coming Out of the Dark” at this event, a song with universal appeal but which expressed all the agony and anguish she’d experienced during the past year. In between, we get to know a teenage girl who worked hard at school, was devoted to her ill veteran father, enjoyed the company of her younger sister and grandmother Consuelo (played by the delightfully saucy Alma Cuervo) and, despite her tight rein and constant criticism, loved her mother Gloria Fajardo with all her heart (played with passion and honesty by “In the Heights” star, Andrea Burns).
It’s the in-between events that sometimes feel rushed. We get brief glimpses of Gloria Fajardo’s own musical career, which was halted by her strict father; we observe a moment in Spain that sheds a little bit of light on Emilio’s family and their escape from Cuba, before immigrating to the United States. There’s a montage of exciting musical numbers that detail how the Miami Latin Boys became cross-over recording stars, the Miami Sound Machine, and eventually Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine. We see the group rise from obscurity to fame, playing Italian weddings and Jewish Bar Mitzvahs, highlighted by a dynamite young performer, Eduardo Hernandez, dancing in a show-stopping performance.
But many moments only feel like steps toward each musical number, which are, of course, the highlights of this show. The Miami Sound Machine songbook is skillfully used to extend the play’s dialogue, with hits like “Rhythm is Gonna Get You,” “Anything For You,” “1-2-3,” “Here We Are,” “Don’t Want To,” the show-stopping hit “Conga” that ends Act I and, of course, the title song, “Get On Your Feet.” Ms. Estefan’s also penned a brand new song for this production that’s a lovely, eleventh hour ballad. The entire show, which sizzles with Sergio Trujillo’s sassy, sexy, Latin-inspired choreography, also offers a crowd-pleasing megamix finale and curtain call. Featuring “Turn the Beat Around,” “Oye Me” and other hits, it brings the audience to their feet.
This new musical is exciting, often heartfelt and is filled with pulsating, Latin-infused songs that everyone will recognize and fall in love with all over again. Guided by excellent direction and choreography, this multi-talented cast performs on an all-purpose set designed by David Rockwell, composed of moving walls built from shutters, and featuring a background of video projections by Darrel Maloney. Brilliant Latin costumes by Esosa are the icing on the cake, and Lon Hoyt’s extraordinary onstage orchestra truly keeps the beat alive. This wonderful show, which just needs a little bit of tweaking, overflows with infectious rhythms that leave the audience pulsating with a desire to get On Their Feet.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented June 2-July 5 by Broadway in Chicago at the Ford Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago.
Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster locations, Broadway in Chicago Box Offices, by calling the Broadway in Chicago Ticket Line at 800-775-2000 or by going to www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.