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May 07 2016
Made It Happen: Gloria & Emilio Estefan's Life Story, ON YOUR FEET!—A Review Comments (0)

Unnamed(Image by Matthew Rettenmund)

I had a blast at On Your Feet!, exactly the kind of Broadway musical/revue I would normally find tedious.

Based on the life stories of Emilio and Gloria (in that order, it seemed at times) Estefan, the show is driven ably by Jerry Mitchell and features crowd-pleasing fancy footwork courtesy of choreographer Sergio Trujillo (nominated for a Tony for his work), but the main course is a litany of most of Gloria's hits with and without Miami Sound Machine.

On_your_feet_OG(Image via On Your Feet!)

The book, by Oscar-winning Birdman writer Alexander Dinelaris, is straightforward, following young Gloria (effervescent 15-year-old Alexandria Suarez—give this girl her own Nickelodeon or Disney Channel series!) as she matures into a sassy dynamo. Given life by a radiant, confident Ana Villafañe, pre-fame Gloria is musically fixed up with ambitious charmer Emilio (Josh Segarra). The two quickly make beautiful music together in both senses of the phrase, leading to a first act heavy on the excitement of watching a pair of young dreamers as they successfully figure out how to persuade U.S. radio that their fusion of Latin beats and American pop can't miss.

I never expected “Doctor Beat” to be so emotionally resonant.

The actors have great chemistry, though handsome Segarra sometimes pours on the charm (and the unintelligible accent) so thick he can come off as someone who should wind up the villain in the end. No chance of that, but it was distracting and flirted with caricature.

The future power couple's interplay is sweet, if occasionally a little Hart to Hart-saccharine, but what is uncanny is Villafañe's channeling of the timbre of Gloria's speaking voice, so that their banter becomes both romantically effective and sonically authentic. At times, it feels like you're listening in on a recording from the Estefans' past.

Gloria's mother (Andréa Burns) and grandmother (Alma Cuervo) are both prominent supporting characters, providing humor and tugging heartstrings in expected and unexpected ways. (Burns in particular effortlessly pulls laughs and, later, tears out of maternal drama.)

Probably the major drawback for me was the awkward staging of Gloria's near-fatal bus accident and the myth-building component of her stubborn recovery, which dominated the second act. Still, the show's ultimate vibe is joyous enough to overcome its flaws.

Overall, star-in-the-making Villafañe's singing is top-notch and as close to the real thing as anything but the real thing, which seemed to delight the full house. Generously, almost every major and minor hit is given a flashy production number. I only missed “Bad Boy” and “Falling in Love (Uh-Oh),” and was surprised that even a couple of Gloria's disco covers were squeezed in (albeit during the curtain call).

The hard-working troupe, the timeless energy of the music and the message of self-empowerment had the audience on their feet more than once.

On Your Feet! is at the Marriott Marquis (46th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave., NYC).