Review: "On Your Feet" - National Tour (Hollywood Pantages Theatre)

Jill Weinlein 

  • Chief Los Angeles Theatre Critic

Los Angelenos enthusiastically embraced the cast of “On Your Feet!” last night at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. The Opening Night of this Broadway touring show had adorning fans ten rows deep, outside the theatre hoping to get a glimpse or photo of seven-time Grammy winning international superstar Gloria Estefan and her Grammy-winning husband, producer-musician and entrepreneur Emilio Estefan.

While standing at the red carpet, I noticed both Gloria and Emilio approaching to pose with actress and comedian Kathy Griffin and her mother Maggie. Next Cuban-American Broadway actress Christie Prades, who plays Gloria in the show, posed with her co-star stage and television heartthrob Mauricio Martinez playing Emilio Estefan. Cameras and Smart Phones were held high to capture the moment.

This biographical drama is similar to the struggle and fame of Carole King in the musical, “Beautiful” (coming back to the Pantages on September 12). “On Your Feet!” portrays Cuban-American life, family love, discrimination in the music-business and hope, while weaving the Estefan’s beloved songs that include “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” “Don’t Wanna Lose You Now,” “Anything for You,” and “Turn the Beat Around.”

I fondly remember watching Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine on MTV and listening to “1-2-3” on the radio. As the show opened, I discovered that many of the Grammy Award-winning musicians from Miami Sound Machine were onstage performing the salsa hip-swaying songs for “On Your Feet!” 

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The audience learns a lot about Gloria Estefan. Her father José Fajardo performed by Jason Martinez (Jersey Boys, The Capeman) played recordings of young Gloria’s voice while serving in the Vietnam War. Coming back home he soon developed multiple sclerosis and Gloria was instrumental in caring for him. Her mother Gloria Fajardo, played by Broadway star Nancy Ticotin, was a beautiful Latin singer and dancer. She was cast to be the Spanish voice of Shirley Temple, but never got to live out her dream. Little Gloria played by Ana-Sofia Rodriguez and Carmen Sanchez brought joy to the streets of Miami with her soulful voice. Meeting Emilio (part of Miami Latin Boys band) while she was 17 years old, they soon became inseparable, with the help of Gloria’s Consuelo, “On Your Feet!” show stopper Debra Cardona.

We discover how the sounds of Havana illuminated the streets of Miami becoming a cultural phenomenon in America. The Estefans tackled the music industry like no one had ever seen. First dominating the Latin market, they successfully crossed over into the American market with their signature breakthrough English language song, “Conga,” even when record producers insisted they “keep it Spanish.”

When golden voice Martinez as Emilio Estefan shouts “This is what an American looks like” the audience erupts in applause and cheers. They explode with more passion when Martinez says the line when this dynamic duo toured the White House, “two Cuban immigrants shaking hands with the President of the United States.” The enthusiasm reflects on the current immigration debate.

“On Your Feet!” features orchestrations by Gloria Estefan and Emilio Estefan and arrangements by Lon Hoyt (Hairspray). The music complements the lively dance arrangements and dance orchestrations by Oscar Hernandez. 

Listening to Music Director Clay Ostwald (keyboards), who is Assistant Music Director of Miami Sound Machine, Teddy Mulet (trombone), Mike Scaglione (reeds), Jorge Casas (bass), who is Music Director of Miami Sound Machine, and Edwin Bonilla (percussion). The other members of the orchestra include Emmanuel Schvartzman (Associate Music Director/keyboards), Jose Ruiz (trumpet), Stephen Flakus (guitar), Jean- Christophe Leroy (percussion) and Colin Taylor (drums) is enhanced with the talented dance ensemble including show stealer Carlos Carreras, Jordan Vergara, Anthony Alfaro, Michelle Alves, Jonathan Arana, Skizzo Arnedillo, Danny Burgos, Sarita Colón, Shadia Fairuz, Adriel Flete, Devon Goffman, Ilda Mason, Claudia Mulet, Eddie Noel, Marina Pires, Jeremey Adam Rey, Gabriel Reyes, Joseph Rivera, Maria Rodriguez, Shani Talmor and Claudia Yanez.

Four-time Tony-nominated scenic designer David Rockwell works well with Projections by Darrel Maloney, creating palm trees and Miami architecture on the back screen. I also liked his clever use of silk fabric to change young Gloria to teenage Gloria, and during the brink of death sequence when Gloria and cast are dressed in all-white, while she gets to visit her deceased loved ones.

Besides wearing white, Tony-nominated costume designer Emilio Sosa dressed the cast in bold and muted colors. As Gloria achieves stardom, so does her sparkling outfits. 

After intermission Emilio negotiates a multi-million dollar contract, something no other female artist including Madonna had ever received. The Estefans sold over 100 million records, while selling out stadiums around the world, until one bad night in 1990. With Emilio’s love and devotion, Gloria makes a comeback performing at Dick Clark’s American Music Awards about one year later, receiving the adulation of family, friends and fans.

After the curtain call, Prades and Martinez introduced Gloria and Emilio Estefan along with their grandson up onstage. The audience already amped up from the show, jubilantly cheered, whistled and showed their love for this incredible survivor.

The performance schedule for ON YOUR FEET! is Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm & 8pm, and Sunday at 1pm & 6:30pm. 

ON YOUR FEET! is recommended for ages 8 and up. 

  • HOLLYWOOD PANTAGES THEATRE
  • 6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028
  • HollywoodPantages.com or Ticketmaster.com 1-800-982-2787.