By Charlie Sawyer and Natascha Ng
★ ★ ★
Coming to Cardiff from Broadway, On Your Feet! brings the Latino passion and spirit of Gloria Estefan to the stage once again. This production follows the story of Estefan’s rise to fame. From her Cuban origins and the streets of Miami to finally capturing her world-wide success on the global stage.
The production centres in on the love story between Gloria and Emilio and the struggles they face trying to not only conquer the world of Latin music, but also the hearts of the American people. Additionally, there is a deeper, underlying story of the struggles of both Cuban immigration and integration into American society. This sub-plot created touching moments between the characters. However, it felt like there was no real depth to this subject and much like the rest of the production storyline, everything was very thinly skimmed over.
The musical ensemble was vibrant and enthusiastic, carrying an energy that transferred into the crowd. The fantastic choreography was executed wonderfully by the dancers, who were extremely synchronous, and an imperative aspect of the dynamic carried through the entire production. The ensemble danced with the audience, encouraging people to come up and dance with them; ultimately, they had everyone up and dancing by the finale which only added to the fun!
When mentioning the musical aspects of this production, there is no doubt that the hidden stars of the show were the band. Positioned at the back of the stage, they created an amazing atmosphere and aura. Throughout the big musical numbers, the band, accompanied by the ensemble, worked well with interacting with the audience to create a concert experience.
An audience firm favourite was the warm, comedic character of ‘Abuela’ who brought both comedic timing and sassy, saucy remarks to the stage. The character of Emilio, although he provided some comedic moments, often became overshadowed by Gloria and other more developed characters. The acting did sometimes become an afterthought due to the importance of the musical numbers.
The energy from the big musical features juxtaposed the more sombre and serious acting moments – often this was quite jarring. The audience would experience a real high during the upbeat musical numbers and then we would be brought down; sometimes almost immediately after, to a much simpler scene involving the actors, sometimes tackling issues such as family breakdown and Gloria breaking her back during a car accident. This often made the production feel disjointed.
In terms of set design, the production didn’t rely heavily on extensive staging – the simplicity became very effective through the use of added visual effects, projection of colours and scenes to indicate transitions through locations. These subtle changes transported the viewer from Cuba to Miami on to New York and onwards to cities all over the world. The seamless set transitions from one location to another held the audience’s attention and meant they were not distracted from the storyline.
On Your Feet! was extremely uplifting and a thoroughly enjoyable performance. The story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan is one of family, music and love for the Cuban people.