Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn opened its 2022-2023 season with a rousing and energetic production of On your feet!, the musical inspired by the life story of musicians Emilio and Gloria Estefan. Featuring songs written by the Estefans or made popular by their band, the Miami Sound Machine, the show covers their rise to fame in the music industry, as well as the obstacles put in their way by studio executives, family disapproval and Gloria’s long history. , difficult physical rehabilitation following a road accident.
We follow the story of musically talented teenager Gloria Maria Fajardo (Linedy Genao). While her mother (Francisca Muñoz), also named Gloria, works to support the family, young Gloria takes care of her handicapped father, José (Luis Villabon), and her younger sister Rebecca (Vanessa Sierra). While her mother opposes Gloria’s desire to write and perform, notably with the Miami Latin Boys, a group led by Emilio Estafan (Brandon Espinoza), Gloria finds encouragement from her. Abuela Consuelo (Yajaira Paredes).
As the group becomes more popular, Gloria and Emilio fall in love and marry, much to Gloria’s mother’s disapproval. The name of the group changes to Miami Sound Machine because singer Gloria is definitely not a Latin boy. As their fame grew both within and outside the Latin community, the Estefans faced resistance to their ideas for band direction from record company executives.
That they were able to overcome and refute this resistance, managing to break out of the constraints of the studio’s PR department, leads to longer and longer tours, which begin to strain Gloria’s relationship with her ever-disapproving mother. and her marriage to a career-focused Emilio. During one of these trips, a horrible accident seriously injures Gloria. His fierce determination to recover is the driving force behind the end of the second act.
Book author Alexander Dinelaris has skillfully integrated the Estefans’ songs to help deliver the show’s most emotional moments, helping to create something more than just a “greatest hits” review. It also avoids the trap of making the story a bio-musical cliché, from rags to riches.
I found particularly clever the use of two of Gloria Estefan’s greatest hits – “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” and “Conga” – to open and close the first act with enough power and energy to light up a small city while using medleys of songs, including “Get on Your Feet”, “Cuba Libre”, “Oye” and “Everlasting Love”, to frame the second act and make the audience feel like they’re at the Miami concerts SoundMachine. In fact, the second act ending medley was the first time I had literally seen people dancing in the aisles of the Paper Mill Playhouse!
With superb direction and choreography by Alex Sanchez, the entire cast is a joy to behold, uniformly excellent, from the hottest stars to everyone in the ensemble. Besides Espinoza and Genao expertly playing the Estefans’ shared ambition and deep love, outstanding performances are delivered by Muñoz as Gloria Fajardo, who was herself a popular singer in pre-revolutionary Cuba; Paredes as Consuelo, one of those Latin women who is a pillar of strength and comfort born from years of hard life; and Kyle Laing and Vincent Ortega bringing a dose of humor as music business executives. A special mention goes to Natalia Artigas, playing the younger version of Gloria, and Carlos Carreras as the dual role of young Emilio and the Estefans’ son, Nayib.
On your feet! Is a high-powered show designed to boost morale and infuse its audience with the energy of Latin pop music. It’s a show suitable for the whole family, and it’s a perfect choice to start the new season of Paper Mill Playhouse with a bang. You’ll be hard pressed not to find yourself moving to the beat of the Estefans during this show. Highly recommend making the trip to Millburn to see On your feet!
On your feet! Is presented by the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn until November 6th. For more information or to buy tickets, go to stationery.org or call 973-376-4343.
With the exception of performances from October 26 to October 30, where wearing a mask is mandatory inside the building, wearing a mask is strongly recommended but not mandatory.