Charisma and conga carry touring ‘On Your Feet!’
By Bob Abelman
Punctuation in a play’s title is more than just grammatically effective. It’s instructive.
The slash in “If/Then,” for instance, offers insight into the show’s narrative structure. The brackets and lowercasing in “[title of show]” embody the production’s impertinence. The question mark in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” suggests the very dramatic ambiguity that dominates Edward Albee’s play.
And then there is the exclamation point.
In “Oklahoma!” the punctuation turns the title into a definitive statement about the musical’s significance. The same exclamation point is intentionally sarcastic in “Something Rotten!”
In “On Your Feet!” — which is currently on tour and on stage at Playhouse Square — the punctuation is a demand that the audience breach theater protocol and get up and dance in the aisles.
No encouragement is necessary, for this biographical jukebox musical consists largely of Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine’s high-energy hits from the 1980s and 1990s, performed by superb entertainers under Jerry Mitchell’s direction. They are backed by an incredible on-stage band with plenty of brass and percussion, with Clay Ostwald on the keyboards and at the helm.
Unfortunately, all this music – which earned 26 Grammy awards – is wrapped in Alexander Dinelaris’ lightweight narrative that tracks the limited dramatic arc of Gloria and husband/producer Emilio’s life. The show establishes the strong relationship between the two, explores the impact of their Cuban roots on their music and world view, and paints such an idyllic portrait of the singer – perfect child, perfect wife, perfect performer – that she is almost unrelatable.
The dialogue and the ballads, including “Words Get in the Way,” “Don’t Wanna Lose You,” and the gorgeous “If I Never Got to Tell You” play out on stage with just enough furniture against a backdrop of projected imagery to establish a location. Scenic designer David Rockwell gives these parts of the show a rather understated quality that plays well against the bigger, brighter (designed by Kenneth Posner) and more beautifully costumed (designed by Emilio Sosa) production numbers.
Mostly, though, the show is one eye-popping production number after another, with so much strenuous salsa choreographed by Sergio Trujillo and performed by a gorgeous ensemble of movers and shakers that the people sitting in the first few rows will need to take some advil when they get home, just from the close exposure.
The show, which closed on Broadway this past August after 746 performances, has been on tour for just a few months, so the energy of the dancers and the truly spectacular voices of Christie Prades as Gloria, Mauricio Martinez as Emilio, Nancy Ticotin as Gloria’s strong-minded mother and Alma Cuervo as Gloria’s supportive abuela are at the their best. They and other cast members have Broadway credits to their names – including, for many, as understudies, stand-bys and ensemble members in the original production of “On Your Feet!” – which reinforces the quality of the talent on stage.
Because of the staging and the show’s approach to the subject matter, only those in attendance who have a personal connection with the artist and her music will likely feel emotionally engaged with this musical. But everyone will likely leave entertained. Exclamation point!
Touring “On Your Feet!” at Playhouse Square
WHERE: Connor Palace Theatre, 1511 Euclid Ave., Cleveland
WHEN: Through Dec. 23
TICKETS & INFO: $29-$109, call 216-241-6000or visit playhousesquare.com
Bob Abelman covers professional theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman3. 2017 AP Ohio Media Editors best columnist.
Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on December 7, 2017.
Lead image: The cast of “On Your Feet!” Photo / Matthew Murphy