It is certainly a tale worth telling–the stirring immigrant to riches tale of Gloria Estefan which saw her defy record industry prejudice and potential paralysis to become Queen of Latin pop. Jerry Mitchell's exhilarating production of On Your Feet!, which celebrates her life and music and ran for two years on Broadway in 2015, has finally arrived in the West End (London Coliseum).
The show tells the story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and how she rose from a shy young girl with a good voice to a multi-national superstar. It traces her rise to stardom in the face of sceptical musical moguls who do not believe Latin-sounding music could appeal to an audience. It also focuses on the relationship between Emilio and Gloria, after the latter became the front-girl for Emilio's band Miami Sound Machine, and how their combined tenacity, self-belief and passion enabled them to 'cross-over' from the Latin pop market into mainstream global consumption. The Estefans have been married for 40 years and the show reveals the strains that fame and touring the world put on the singer's relationship with her family. The musical also features a scene of the near-fatal coach crash in 1990 that left Gloria needing two titanium rods in her spine, but after 10 months of rehabilitation, she returned to her career stronger and more determined than ever.
The script by Alexander Dinelaris is patchy and the story told in an episodic way–in the first half there is an element of confusion in chronicling her early life, veering between past and present and appearing more of a hagiography than a biography, while the stage all too often gets crowded with people, where it should be more intimate and involving. But gradually the show works its charm and becomes more absorbing and even quite moving.
And certainly the rhythm is gonna get to you. The music is as good as you'd expect with hits such as Dr. Beat and Congo, not to mention such delicious ballads as Anything For You and When Someone Comes Into Your Life, played by a live on stage band and performed by twirling, leaping and swirling dancers who really give it their all.
The stage is attractively designed with changing backdrops to reflect Miami, Vietnam, an Italian wedding and a mini-tour of Las Vegas.
Vocally impressive American actress Christie Prades gives a performance of great personal magnetism, tenderness and sensitivity and looks every inch the young Gloria, singing and dancing with explosive energy through the up tempo numbers, but it is in the ballads that her talent really shines. George Ioannides convinces as the ambitious Emilio and Madalena Alberto makes her presence felt as Gloria's feisty mother, Gloria Fajardo, while Karen Mann frequently steals the show as Gloria's beloved grandmother Consuelo, who is loud, cheeky and very supportive.
This is an undeniably entertaining show and captures enough of Gloria and Emilio's warmth to make you forget its flaws.
On Your Feet
Runs until Saturday 31 August at The Coliseum, London.
Box office: 020 7845 9300.Last modified: July 8, 2019