Touring – reviewed at New Wimbledon Theatre, London
Currently embarking on a UK tour after a summer stint at the London Coliseum, On Your Feet! is a celebration of Gloria Estefan continually thriving in the face of adversity. The musical has a flawed book, but there’s heart in spades, glorious music and a real life story of endurance that is enough to warm your heart.
Transporting us from Gloria’s childhood in Cuba, to her recording career and near fatal accident, it’s truly inspiring to see how she rebuilt herself after physical trauma as well as always remaining true to what she believes in, even under the pressures of the music industry.
The fairly small cast do an excellent job of filling every inch of the stage and perform with the energy and enthusiasm you could expect to see on the streets of Cuba. Consistently full out and precise in their movements, the cast are very impressive in their performance of Sergio Trujillo’s intense choreography.
It’s the pacing of this musical that is the biggest downfall. Of course it’s based on real life events, but Alexander Dinelaris’ book often lacks development and therefore depth. The main focus is on the lighthearted moments, meaning the more intense scenes are sometimes glossed over quickly. Act two packs much more of a punch in terms of emotional impact, with Gloria’s scenes with her mother proving particularly moving. Again, this is a musical which reminds up to stick up for our values and beliefs. This idea is woven throughout but is especially effective in the scenes where the Estefans are at odds with their record producer (played excellently and humorously by Robert Oliver).
As the Miami diva herself, Philippa Stefani excels, bringing Gloria to life with a truthful performance. She engages the audience and never falters in energy or performance. Stefani’s transition from shy teenager to commanding performer is masterful to watch and really showcases her as an actress. More so than anyone, Stefani uses the limited book hugely to her advantage and performs as though she really is on a huge, sell-out headline tour.
Stefani’s chemistry with George Ioannides as Emilio Estefan is believable and romantic. Since seeing the show at the Coliseum, it seems George has really grown into the role as he gives a suave, vocally assured performance. Vocal powerhouse and legend of the stage, Madalena Alberto gives an exceptionally strong performance as she simmers ready to bubble over in anger or despair at any time. Vocally she is fantastic and her interactions which every character, especially her daughter, are truly enjoyable to watch.
The set design by David Rockwell is effective as it allows the action to transition from Cuba, to the USA and from kitchen to tourbus in a very simplistic but effective way. Quite a lot is left up to the imagination which, alongside having the band visible on stage, allows the true focus to be on the music. Like the ensemble, the band are full of an energy which fills the theatre and transmits amongst the audience. Kenneth Posner’s bold lighting and Emilio Soso’s bright costumes bring a carnival feel to the whole production which engages and entertains.
There are flaws to this musical for sure, but it’s an uplifting piece of theatre which brings a little bit of Cuban sunshine to the streets of Wimbledon. For fans of Gloria Estefan this is a must-see, and for everyone else, it’s a chance to tap your feet and imagine you’re basking in the Miami sun. For a celebration of music, life and heritage, get On Your Feet and conga your way to see this tour.
On Your Feet! plays at the New Wimbledon theatre until 29 February and then continues its tour