On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan
The Garden Theater • Winter Garden, Florida
Book by Alexander Dinelaris
Music by Emilio and Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine
Directed by Nick Bazo • Musical Direction by Bert Rodriguez
Choreography by Katherine A. Rivera
Starring Olga Intriago and Radamés Medina Meléndez
by Carl F. Gauze
Here’s a surefire crowd pleaser. In On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, the biographical story of Gloria Estefan and her manager/partner/husband Emilio brings us a show packed with high-energy song, dance, and racial and sexual politics.
Gloria (Intriago) grew up in a respectable Cuban household until Castro “liberated” Cuba. He overthrew capitalist thievery, replacing it with Communist thievery and taking away all the fun stuff and any successful businesses. Gloria’s mom wanted her to study engineering, but Gloria had other ideas. As Cuba collapsed, Gloria fled to Miami and met promoter and producer Emilio Estefan (Meléndez). It wasn’t love at first sight, but they did make a good songwriting and production team. Soon the were on the Latin charts in south Florida. Nice, but small frijoles. Emilio persisted, and eventually his label let them market Cuban music to the general Anglo public.
How did Emilio pull it off? With a cleaver guerrilla marketing scheme and persistent performances around Miami and beyond. Along the way, Gloria began writing her own songs and fought a similar problem as a female writer: convincing her husband she could write and arrange music. You CAN learn a few things from revolution. But then tragedy struck with a bus wreck that nearly killed Gloria. She nearly died but beat the odds and returned to performing to packed houses and collecting a shelf full of Emmys.
What’s not to love here? High-energy hit music, a tale of immigrant success, and a nonstop flow of dances, record executives, and American dreams. Intriago’s Gloria is the strong, persistent woman, and the scenes of her struggles post-accident are heartbreaking. Mendelez begins with a thoughtful “we can do anything” subtext, but as success flows, he becomes much more conservative, leading Gloria to fight him to record her own material. The record label toady whose name I did not catch looked adorable and sleazy at the same time. The 8-piece band led by Bert Rodriguez rocked—he seems to be everywhere these days. The hits are endless and executed with snap. “Conga,” “Everlasting Love,” and my favorite, “Turn the Beat Around,” there’s a ton of great material here. High energy hit music, a story of struggle and success with a happy ending, and down deep, it holds the seed of that American dream of showing up penniless and making yourself a star. The Estefans did it, maybe you can as well.