This is the first time in a while that I’ve gone into a show knowing quite literally nothing about either the songs or the subject matter before hand. I had heard about this show across Twitter throughout its tour and successful runs and I knew that my mum was aware of Gloria Estefan and the major points of her story but other than that it wasn’t one I had been able to look into. However, this made me all the more excited by the opportunity to see the show on its press night at the Wales Millennium Centre to finally learn more about both Gloria Estefan and the show itself. Due to me going into the show blind This review will consider both the cast and technical aspects of this individual production and the general narrative.
On Your Feet! features many of Gloria Estefan’s hit songs including Rhythm Is Gonna Get You, Conga, Get On Your Feet, Don’t Want To Lose You Now, Dr.Beat and 1-2-3 but the show is far more character driven than its music may lead you to believe. It charts the inspiring true story of both Emilio and Gloria during their journey from Cuba, to the streets of Miami finally culminating in the most public trails of their lives and their international superstardom.
Philippa Stefani gives the most relatable energising performance as Gloria Estefan. I could relate to her ambition and love for her family that just emanated from every piece of her dialogue and each decision. Also, whilst I can’t speak to the sound-a-like aspect, I couldn’t believe how her voice could transition so effortlessly between the slower songs into the upbeat dance numbers. However, the show makes it clear that this is not a one woman show and the heart of the show really comes out in the relationships between Stefani’s Gloria and the other members of her family.
Madalena Alberto gave such an intriguing, hard hitting performance transitioning between the Spanish and English lyrics of ‘Mi Tierra’ which effortlessly explained the frustrations and pressures placed on her both by personal situation at the time, the pressures that have continued in her family life and the effect of the country’s political climate. She quickly became such a realistic and well rounded character to offset Gloria’s optimism and ambition whilst avoiding becoming a character archetype. Karen Mann gives a hilarious and heartwarming performance as Consuelo who brings a breath of fresh air to many moments in the first act. The revelations of her character smack the show’s theme of not waiting for tomorrow home to the audience contributing to not only the family emotional heart of the show but also the literal emotion felt by the audience. Overall this show was far more emotional than I was possibly expecting. This is mainly caused by the narrative of Gloria’s father played heartbreakingly by Elia Lo Tauro. Bring tears for ‘Wrapped’ that’s all I’m going to say.
George Ioannides completes the cast of character driven actors who also provides both the weight of the narrative in his realist outlook and the light hearted teasing moments with Gloria. Their relationship was actually very adorable but also interesting. I was curious as to how they balanced their professionalism and family life and while there were hints at this throughout the narrative this was generally smoothed over as major family events, as I detail below, were not covered in detail. Ioannides’ vocals however broke through the narrative in an effortless fashion especially during his slower numbers. The narrative compensated for the missing aspects of his relationship with Gloria to actually shed light on the unexpected aspects of his relationship with her mother. Again, pack the tissues for ‘If I Never Got To Tell You’ and ‘Don’t Wanna Lose You’.
I also want to mention the ensemble who fully round out the atmosphere of each location, each song and most importantly the dancing. The choreography and dancing talent in this show is absolutely insane! If you’re at all interested in the genres of dance covered in this show it will easily be an enjoyable night for you.
As impressive as the lighting design of this show is I really wasn’t a fan of the set design. The concept of the moving panels to be used both as windows of buildings and an area for the projections is intriguing but when this is the whole concept of the set it became quite easy to fade out of the perspective of the scene. On a more personal level I also feel this show demonstrated a form of video projection set design that I’m really not a fan of. I enjoy inventive uses but in this show the projections quite obviously were used to allow for fireworks and to replace signs which would have been made of physical set pieces otherwise.
As I discussed with my mum during the interval, there are two types of jukebox musicals. One, with examples like Mamma Mia and We Will Rock You, includes the well-knows songs but they are placed into an original narrative and the second includes Beautiful where the songs are set to the narrative of the singer’s life and personal narrative. On Your Feet! certainly falls into the later category. However, the layout of scenes, some dialogue and set choices relating to illustrating the passage of time left me feeling unsure exactly which aspects of their lives the show really wanted to focus on. As I’ve discussed above I loved the emotional heart tugging moments between members of the family but these individual conversations were pushed to the forefront primarily because the narrative wiped over their marriage, the deaths of significant family members as influences on Gloria, the birth of her child and how that experience could have effected her mentality whilst touring, which itself makes up the significant areas of the narrative so this was an especially strange non inclusion, and the areas covered such as the deals made to raise their profile were not played out clearly to me as someone wanting to learn more than I already knew. I loved the moments which were included, however, when the show is looked at as a narrative chosen to layout the development of these characters some choices become quite confusing but as a night of balancing powerful emotion and upbeat dance tracks I feel the show ultimately became an emotional rollercoaster ending on an inspiring high.
Overall, you’re seeing this show for the cast and the ensemble to see the songs sung in a newer context and energy. I do feel that you may get more out of the narrative if you are previously aware of the dates and timelines of her life, as these are not clearly stated throughout the show, however from experience of knowing nothing of these beforehand this does not hinder the show too much. I was not expecting the show to be as emotional as it became but it does end on a high note so, whilst not complete escapism, it certainly is an interesting mix of enjoyment and consideration of how life progresses.
On Your Feet! is currently running at the Wales Millennium Centre until the 26th of October and you can buy your tickets here: https://www.wmc.org.uk/en/whats-on/2019/on-your-feet/
Please be aware that right before the show began there was an announcement of a role being covered. However, this announcement was very fast, it was done within two minutes of the show beginning and I couldn’t find a cast board or cover announcement board so I was unable to confirm which role was covered and who was on. For this review I have used the names of the principle actors for each role, however, if you are aware of who was covered on the evening show of October 21st please let me know and when able I will change the name in this review.
Tickets provided in exchange for an honest review of the production.
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