“Come on, shake your body baby, do the conga!” … and with that one line you’re already singing along in your head I’m sure. This fantastic new musical takes songs you’ve known for years, it gives them a context, and it weaves them effortlessly into the life story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. On Your Feet takes us from their Cuban roots, through tragedy, to Gloria Estefan’s eventual recognition as a true Latina diva.
The fact that the Estefan’s were so heavily involved in the development of this production means that the music and the book work seamlessly together, and you really get to discover the meaning behind some of the biggest hits of the 80s and 90s. However, this isn’t just a love story or a story of how to deal with life-changing events, it also uses clever flashbacks to give the audience a true insight into the dual barriers Gloria Estefan faced as both a female music artist and as a Cuban immigrant.
The choreography in the production is sensational throughout. Sergio Trujillo serves up a choreographic fusion of Cuban salsa and 80s pop movements, and also manages to chronicle the introduction of Latin culture, dance and rhythms into the immigrant communities of Florida, and then across the United States and the world. Everyone in the cast must be commended on their energetic execution of Trujillo’s vision, and even some members of the audience were unable to hold themselves back from joining in!
The set, designed by David Rockwell, looked simple but was used to the maximum to provide performance spaces of all shapes and sizes. Its flexibility, enhanced by the clever lighting by Kenneth Posner and projections by Darrel Maloney, meant that the storytelling opportunities were unlimited, and yet each scene was clearly and carefully anchored in a time and place. The on-stage band are exceptional and showcased the music brilliantly, and they definitely deserved their own encore. There wasn’t a single person in the auditorium not on their feet enjoying the music by the end!
It seems wrong to single anyone out from a cast that was outstanding in terms of both vocal and dance talent, but Francesca Lara Gordon, the first cover for the role of Gloria Estefan, should be congratulated for so beautifully portraying many sides of Estefan’s character: from the insecure teenager with the weight of family responsibility on her shoulders, and the vulnerable and frustrated patient struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, to the triumphant megastar celebrating her success in the music business. Also, thanks to Gordon’s performance and the direction of Jerry Mitchell, this show doesn’t fall into the trap of other musicals of this genre, and never feels like karaoke. Gordon makes the character her own and, supported by the rest of the cast, tells the story with heart and passion.
On Your Feet is a celebration of love, life, and conquering adversity, backed by the soundtrack of a generation. Get on your feet and go and see it!
On Your Feet runs at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield until Saturday 19th October, and then continues its tour around the UK until May 2020. Dates and ticket links can be found at https://www.onyourfeetmusical.co.uk/tour-dates
Reviewer: Jo Tillotson
Reviewed: 15th October 2019
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★