If you’re a music fan who is near Elmsford anytime soon, and you see a conga line snaking its way through the streets, you might want to join it. They’ll be on their way to Westchester Broadway Theatre, where “On Your Feet” is bringing audiences to their feet with the inspirational story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan.
She’s the Cuban-born pop diva whose signature sound of “Cuban-fusion pop music” has sold 100 million records worldwide. He’s the one who discovered her, married her, and produced the recordings that have earned the power couple more than 20 Grammys.
Ms. Estefan’s life story doesn’t exactly need to be “dramatized”; its truth is inherently compelling. The young Cuban musician (Emilio) who invited her to rehearse with his Miami band soon fell for her, and she for him. It was love at first note.
“On Your Feet” is on stage through Aug. 4. For tickets: BroadwayTheatre.com; 914-592-2222.)
A Milestone in Crossover Appeal
Despite her multilingual skills, the label executive who signed Gloria at first rejected the idea of her singing in English. Her market appeal, he thought, was strictly of interest to Latin audiences. After his momentary myopia was cured, the Estefans and their hit-making Miami Sound Machine went on to become the first Latin artists out of Florida with crossover appeal to English-speaking music fans.
They were riding as high as the sky. Then, on March 20, 1990, that ride came crashing down. Cruel fate intervened, in the form of a tractor-trailer that rammed into their tour bus on the way to a concert date in upstate New York.
The megastar’s spine was shattered, along with her spirit and hopes of continuing a landmark career. Facing delicate spinal surgery, there was no certainty that she would be able to walk again.
Yet—as if scripted by a Hollywood writer—less than a year later, at the January 1991 American Music Awards, there she was, on her feet, as were the movers and shakers of the record business, welcoming her back with an emotional standing ovation, as she made her first public appearance following the near-fatal accident.
A Cultural Treasure
All of that—plus the fraught relationship she had with her mother Gloria Fajardo, and her father Jose’s contracting multiple sclerosis after returning from military duty in Vietnam—forms the absorbing story of the Estefans.
Their fame and their contributions to our culture transcend the music business, as attested by elite recognition that includes Kennedy Center Honors, Presidential Medal of Freedom, and Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.
In the title role of Gloria, Maria Bilbao does justice to the powerful vocals and stage charisma synonymous with Ms. Estefan. As Gloria Fajardo, her embittered mother, the vibrant Karmine Alers makes a worthy antagonist to Gloria’s rising ambitions. Jose Luaces (with a passing resemblance to Julio Iglesias) makes a dashing and sensitive Emilio who both protects and nurtures the love of his life.
Byron St. Cyr Is a Joy to Hear
What is perhaps most regrettable about “On Your Feet” is that we don’t get to hear more of the stunningly sweet and silky voice of Byron St. Cyr, as her father Jose Fajardo. Confined to a wheelchair for most of the story, due to his multiple sclerosis, we mainly get to hear Mr. St. Cyr in a duet with his daughter during a flashback scene. His glorious voice leaves you wanting more.
Beyond the principal actors, the real stars of “On Your Feet” are the nearly 20 songs that inject this jukebox musical with lush romantic ballads like “Don’t Wanna Lose You” and with infectious rhythms (what’s better than the perpetual motion of “Conga,” and the surprising fact that it was first performed at a bar mitzvah—how perfect is that?)
Add to that the exuberant dancing (choreographed by Rhonda Miller), the evocative tropical set design (Steve Loftus) and costumes (Keith Nielsen), and the versatile 10-piece band on stage (under musical director Bob Bray)—which received a deservedly sustained ovation at the final curtain—and you’ll be on your feet too by the time cast members take their turn bowing and bopping to the synth-pop beat of the “Megamix” finale.
Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-275-6887.