“On Your Feet!” Review

Listen to Gloria Estefan invite you to “On Your Feet!”

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On Your Feet! is Leaving Broadway for the World

On Your Feet! will give its final performance at the Marquis Theatre on Broadway on Sunday, August 20, 2017.

The cast will get a well-deserved vacation before launching their first national tour in September. The Grand Opening will be October 5 in Miami, Florida, the Estefans’ home city.

On Your Feet! goes global starting in Utrecht, Netherlands in October 2017. The Estefans chose Utrecht because that is where they wrote the hit song Conga that made them international superstars.

Get Up and Make it Happen

Ñew York Latin Culture’ Ximena and Keith saw the last Preview on November 4, 2015.

Here We Are

The stage curtain opened to a hot Latin band that made you want to dance. At the first notes Ximena turned to me and said, “Sabor Latino mi amor” (Latin flavor my love).

On Your Feet!, the Emilio and Gloria Estefan love story, begins with a backstage family scene where first Emilio and then Gloria tell their son Nayib to finish his homework. Like children everywhere, Nayib wants to watch the end of the show.

Everyone in the theater instantly recognizes the scene, having repeated it a million times in their own lives. That’s the great thing about “On Your Feet!” If you are Latin, you will see yourself in it. If you are not Latin, you can have a look into our lives. We are pretty much like you.

Ironically, “Hamilton” this season’s other hit Latin Broadway show is playing in the next theater next door. “Hamilton” is exceptional because it has people of color tell a classic American story.

“On Your Feet!” is exceptional because it tells our story in a colorful way. It’s a story of goodbyes to people and places you may never see again. It’s a story of missing the culture you come from, and not quite fitting into the culture you are in, but loving both. It’s a story about how not knowing “the normal way” forces us to be more creative and figure out some way. That’s the Estefan’s brilliance. They never stop figuring it out.

Everlasting Love

All the characters in a Latin family are there. The creative teenager (Ana Villafañe and Alexandria Suarez), her over-protective mother (Andrea Burns), the doting father who loves his “angel,” and the abuela (grandmother played by Alma Cuervo) who always encourages her granddaughter to take her own destiny.

Ana Villafañe and the cast of On Your Feet!

Ana Villafañe and the cast of On Your Feet!

There is also the young man (Josh Segarra) who draws a mother’s anger and rejection for pulling her daughter out of her familiar world. It turns out Emilio is a good man who, though an immigrant himself, actually leads the family fully into the life of their adopted country. Throughout the story, the music and dancing never stops. That sounds a lot like every Latin family.

I was surprised by how well the playwright Alex Dinelaris (Birdman, The One Percent) gets us. He gets us as well as Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein did in 1961’s “West Side Story.” It turns out Dinelaris is Armenian and Spanish from Long Island. The sons of immigrants know something about the American experience.


The immigrant experience is very much in the news during this election cycle. “On Your Feet!” is the perfect antidote to the immigrant hate speech we have been hearing from this election’s unreality show.

Watching the performance, I couldn’t help but think that even though some of the characters have strong accents and sometimes dress differently, these are good people, good families, and good Americans. These are the people who make this country great. If the hate talkers had any real idea what they were talking about, they would be quiet and grateful that our country is made of such strong people.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that “On Your Feet!” came to Broadway now. It takes years to put together a Broadway show, so the timing could not have been planned. But that’s what great artists do. They show up at the right time. Emilio and Gloria Estefan showed up in the late 1970s and 1980s after the African-American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s began inspiring Americans to embrace their heritage.

Rhythm is Gonna Get You

Latin music, the blend of African rhythm and Spanish guitar developed around French contradanse traditions in Cuba in the 1800s. The music began reaching the world with the arrival of radio in the 1920s. Machito, a New Yorker from Cuba, and New York Puerto Ricans like Tito Puente mixed it with Jazz and helped popularize the Latin sound across the States in the late 1940s and 50s.

Latin music went global as Salsa out of 1970s New York City, but it was still in Spanish. Emilio and Gloria made Latin music in English and crossed over into 1980s pop in a way that no one else has matched. Their journey has been an inspiration for millions of people in our country and around the world.

Ana Villafañe as Gloria Estefan

Ana Villafañe as Gloria Estefan

Anything for You

Ana Villafañe in her Broadway debut is a strong and strikingly well-cast Gloria. Hearing Ana sing “Anything for You,” reminded Ximena of being a girl in Bogotá, Colombia. Ximena used to sing that song by ear without knowing what the words meant. While singing the song, she would dream of being in New York City. It was very emotional to hear it sung live in New York City.

Throughout the story you see how Emilio’s cleverness and Gloria’s determination overcome every obstacle. Emilio and Gloria keep finding their way through their love for each other and their strong Latin connection with family and heritage.

Josh Segarra does great work channeling Emilio’s wry humor. He is strong, but also gentle and quick to pull a laugh.

The dancing throughout is amazing. Ximena sensed something Colombian about it. It turns out choreographer Sergio Trujillo (“Jersey Boys”) is Colombian-American. First-time actor Eduardo Hernandez, who plays both Little Emilio and their son Nayib, steals a few scenes with his dance moves. Every dancer in New York City should see this show. You may notice the familial relationship between Mambo and Break Dancing.

Coming Out of the Dark

Under the direction of Jerry Mitchell, “On Your Feet!” flies all the way through the Estefan’s breakthrough hit “Conga” and intermission. The pace slows in the second half as it deals with the bus accident that broke Gloria’s back. Seeing Gloria today, I don’t think we realize how hard it was for her to come back from that. That’s a real personal triumph.

As immigrants, we don’t have the luxury of stopping. Though we carry suitcases of memories, we can’t spend much time looking back. We always have to keep pushing forward.

I thought this would be a Cuban story, but it’s an American story. Emilio seems more Cuban and Gloria seems more American. But, he is continuously pushing her forward into American culture while she is continually pulling him back to their Cuban roots.

Dr. Beat

Gloria gets most of the attention, but Emilio is an important music and film producer and businessman. He is one of the most important Latin business leaders in America today. In addition to their own careers, Emilio has produced superstars like Marc Antony, Jennifer, Lopez, Ricky Martin, Shakira, and Rita Moreno. Emilio’s gift is to open people up. That’s what he did for Gloria. That’s what makes him a great producer.

Omar Lopez-Cepero and Josh Segarra

Emilio Estefan’s business acumen underlines the story

Get on Your Feet

Gloria is up in front, but there is a lot of Emilio’s spirit inside this show. It opens you up. That’s one of the reasons you should go see “On Your Feet!” When we met her at the 92nd Street Y conversation with Rita Moreno, Gloria told us that “music has always been a healing force in our lives.” There is something about Gloria and Emilio, their music, and this show that is a healing force.

I woke up in the middle of the night to write this review because I kept dreaming the chorus,

“Get on Your Feet! Get up and make it happen.”

This show couldn’t come at a better time, for we are no longer crossing over. Thanks to artists like Gloria and Emilio, we are already here. So Get On Your Feet! and as Emilio says with a strong accent in the show, “get all your family and friends to do it too!” That, more than anything else, defines us as Latins.

As we left the theater, Ximena turned to me and said, “On Your Feet! is incredible. It’s so emotional. It’s the way we are.”

“Get on Your Feet, Stand up and take some action…”

PS: We are going again with our entire family…

Josh Segarra and Ana Villafañe as Emilio and Gloria Estefan

Josh Segarra and Ana Villafañe as Emilio and Gloria Estefan

Photos: Matthew Murphy courtesy On Your Feet!

Thanks to the 92nd Street Y for the opportunity to speak with Emilio and Gloria.

This article was first published on November 5, 2015.

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