‘On Your Feet!’ review
Time Out says
This Gloria Estefan jukebox musical is a little patchy but a lot of fun
Gloria Estefan’s life story is worth celebrating: it’s a stirring immigrant-to-riches tale which saw her defy record industry prejudice and potential paralysis to become the ‘Queen of Latin Pop’. And if ‘80s hits like ‘Dr Beat’ – released when she was lead singer of the Miami Sound Machine – and ‘Get on Your Feet’ can’t make you dance, then, to paraphrase another Gloria banger, no rhythm is gonna get you. Even at its cheesiest, this jukebox musical – written by Oscar-winning ‘Birdman’ writer Alexander Dinelaris Jr – does a decent job of turning her creative and romantic partnership with hubbie Emilio into satisfying West End entertainment.
Jerry Mitchell’s production, which ran on Broadway in 2015, cha-chas through Gloria’s early life briskly. Reprising the role she originated, a vocally impressive Christie Prades shows how the shy, Miami-raised daughter of Cuban immigrants thrives after she joins a local band led by encouraging and ambitious Emilio (George Ioannides). Her disapproving mother (Madalena Alberto), whose own thwarted ambitions power a poignant flashback sequence, provides one obstacle to success. The other: a bigoted record exec who says they should stick to singing in Spanish. When Emilio claps back by saying that, despite his thick Cuban accent, the bigwig is definitely ‘looking at the face of an American’, it’s an already-powerful moment intensified in 2019 by current US immigration policy. But whether you enjoy the gimmicky decision to bring a conga into the audience at act one’s end might depend on how many on-brand Cuba Libre cocktails you’ve had at the Coliseum’s bar.
The second act becomes more ballad-heavy – perhaps unavoidably given the narrative. After a horrific tour bus collision, Gloria has titanium rods put in her fractured spine and needs months of gruelling physio to get on her feet again. But still, there are moments when you might wonder when the rhythm is gonna get you again. It finally does in a hit-packed closing medley which includes ‘Conga’, ‘Get on Your Feet’ and her ‘90s cover of 'Turn the Beat Around’. It's a shame ‘On Your Feet!’ isn’t always this exhilarating, but it captures enough of Gloria and Emilio’s warmth and resilience to make you forgive the flaws.