Add the names of Gloria and Emilio Estefan to those of Frankie Valli, Carole King, Donna Summer and Cher, singers and songwriters whose lives have been enshrined lately in biographical jukebox musicals. For the Estefans, the show is called On Your Feet!, which ran on Broadway for a more than respectable 746 performances – nearly two years – from 2015 to 2017.
Soon after its Broadway run, On Your Feet! hit the road, allowing the inclusion of several New York cast members and especially members of the Miami Sound Machine, the Estefans’ scorching hot band, well showcased in the touring company that plays the Kravis Center this week.
Like the other similar shows that came before and after On Your Feet!, it displays the assets and liabilities of the rather limited genre. First and foremost, there is the beat-heavy, peppy, infectious Estefan score, including such numbers as “Conga,” “1-2-3,” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” and “Turn the Beat Around,” which meld so well with Sergio Trujillo’s kinetic, aerobic choreography. Also add to the plus side the energetic cast, led by the vibrant Christie Prades as Gloria and Mauricio Martinez as Emilio, whose powerful vocals keep him on an even footing with his co-star.
Perhaps it is inevitable, but the show’s book – by Alexander Dinelaris, Oscar winner for Birdman – is sketchy and far less interesting than the musical numbers. Yes, there is a nice montage of the Estefans’ struggle to get airplay for Gloria’s first recording and the tension between Gloria and her embittered mother over her chosen career has some dramatic punch.
Still, the best thing to happen to On Your Feet! is the 1990 collision of a truck with their tour bus, which fractures Gloria’s spine and nearly ends her career. The incident, and her struggle to overcome the disability. lend the show a welcome gravitas.
Otherwise, On Your Feet! fits a fairly conventional rags-to-riches show biz formula, as Gloria comes to the United States from her native Cuba, meets Emilio, who avidly pursues and wins her over, creating a marriage and a musical merger that became the most successful Latin crossover pop music act in history.
The upward climb is staged for speed by director Jerry Mitchell, who charts Gloria’s progress in performance venues – from a bar mitzvah to an Italian wedding to a world tour of major arenas. Chances are you will let the music move you early on, but certainly by the audience participation conga line in the aisles that ends the first act.
Prades does a seemingly effortless vocal impression of Gloria, bounces and dances with limitless energy and handles the drama of the character’s spinal challenges with a fear and anger that is palpable. Martinez is a compelling stage presence, emphasizing his unabashed love for Gloria and a shrewd business sense in the cutthroat music world. As Gloria’s mother, Nancy Ticotin leaves no doubt that she too could have had a singing career had her father not intervened, and Alma Cuervo is a wily scene-stealer as Gloria’s supportive abuela.
The physical production is aptly splashy, thanks to Kenneth Posner’s rock club lighting, David Rockwell’s scenery pieces dominated by mobile floor-to-ceiling projection panels and Emilio Sosa’s hyper-colorful costumes.
Like so many of these bio-musicals, On Your Feet! ends with a concert-like explosion of music and dance. Maybe it is the none-too-subtle suggestion of the show’s title, but expect to find yourself on your feet in an ovation by the finale.
ON YOUR FEET!, Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. Through Jan. 13. $44-$109. 561-832-7469 or visit www.kravis.org.