By Olivia Popp
“On Your Feet!” is a biographical jukebox musical of 26-time Grammy Award-winning duo of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, featuring music and lyrics from the two and an original book. “On Your Feet!” celebrates the artistry and pride of Cuban culture, bringing the best of Latinx music and dance to the stage.
“On Your Feet!” is relatively formulaic, similar to “Jersey Boys” in plot and structure — the artists slowly make their way to the top, albeit with some sort of “tragic” twist that ultimately gets resolved. It’s a typical three-act structure, but that doesn’t necessarily take away from the importance or creativity of the musical. However, perhaps the more intriguing subplot is that of Gloria (Christie Prades) and her mother (Nancy Ticotin), the latter of which is very disapproving of Gloria’s pursuit of music. On the other hand, her grandmother (Alma Cuervo), is endlessly encouraging of her talented daughter. Gloria and Emilio (Ektor Rivera) meet early on in the musical, and their love story takes somewhat of a backseat, potentially given audiences’ expected knowledge of the show.
“On Your Feet!” celebrates the artistry and pride of Cuban culture, specifically surrounding Gloria and Emilio’s pursuit to become a crossover group from Latin music to pop. It’s a story of resilience played out onstage with the talented vocal and dance casts (featuring the extraordinary talents of Jeanpaul Media Solano, a young dancer in the company).
However, it’s tough to really dive into such depths of nuance, given a predominately white Broadway audience and less than two-and-a-half hours. “On Your Feet!” gives the challenge a run for its money but never quite gets there, instead settling for nostalgia and spectacle rather than tender and hard-fought narratives. It’s a tough choice to acknowledge, given the inspirational nature of Gloria and Emilio’s story, but sometimes it’s a little uncomfortable hearing everyone cheering around you and even dancing to the music and seeing the white-majority audiences applauding the now-iconic songs that the duo fought so hard for in white-dominated markets.
I now think every musical should be required to have a musical number during its curtain call — it just makes everything so much more entertaining and engaging for viewers, providing a callback to the entire show that they just watched. (I’m even thinking of dramatic musicals like “Spring Awakening” in which some productions sing “The Song of Purple Summer” during curtain call and it’s utterly devastating.)
Nonetheless, “On Your Feet!” succeeds where Broadway demands it to succeed — it’s engaging, fun-filled and still meaningful enough to be eaten up by audiences looking to “expand their horizons through art.” This isn’t to discount the importance of the production, but rather acknowledge that pieces featuring characters of color in popular media, especially Broadway, are often going to be portrayed as inspirational or focus on culturally-specific stories that are often surface-level in nature.
The touring production of “On Your Feet!” will be playing at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts through October 14.
Contact Olivia Popp at oliviapopp ‘at’ stanford.edu.