Gloria Stefan On Your Feet!
The ultimate American success story is headed to Broadway, and it centers on a charismatic couple born in Cuba: pop superstar Gloria Estefan and her producer husband, Emilio.
The irresistible new musical On Your Feet! traces the professional and personal relationships that fueled sales of more than 100 million records and made Gloria Estefan the most successful English/Spanish crossover artist of all time. Boasting a score packed with three decades of great music, On Your Feet! begins previews October 5 at the Marquis Theatre, directed by two-time Tony winner Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots). “The show is a love story,” Gloria says in her familiar smoky voice. “It’s a love story between Emilio and me; a love story to this country, as immigrants; and a love story to music, which has been a saving grace in our lives. I want to inspire people, move them emotionally and, of course, entertain them!”
On Your Feet focuses on Gloria’s life from age 17, when she joined Emilio’s band while studying at the University of Miami, to age 32, when she survived a gruesome tour bus crash that nearly paralyzed her. Book writer Alexander Dinelaris, the Oscar-winning coscreenwriter of Birdman, deftly mines the catalog of Estefan classics in ways that feel “as if the songs have been written for the play,” marvels Gloria. “That was important to me — I wanted the show to include not just the hits, but also more obscure cuts that have special meaning to me as a writer, songs that will surprise people.”
After an international talent search, Broadway newcomer Ana Villafañe won the role of Gloria opposite Josh Segarra as Emilio. Gloria knew it wouldn’t be easy to cast her alter ego, explaining, “You need to be bilingual and able to sing both pop and Latin music, which require totally different timing. Beyond that, you have to be able to act this deep and nuanced play Alex has written.” (Not to mention dancing Cuban-style salsa in electrifying concert sequences choreographed by Sergio Trujillo.)
The biggest challenge, explains Villafañe, “is being true to the rhythms that create the iconic ‘Gloria sound.’ You want to be faithful to the songs while injecting new life into them to tell this beautiful story.” For her part, Gloria insists, “I didn’t want a clone. I wanted someone to interpret my life and let people get lost in that interpretation, although at points in the show, it’s scary how much Ana looks and sounds like me.”
While immersing herself in research before the musical’s pre-Broadway engagement in Chicago, Villafañe had the “dream come true” experience of being personally tutored by Gloria, who emphasized the percussive quality of hits such as “1-2-3” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You.” “I told Ana to sing ‘Conga’ as if she is a conga drum,” Gloria says of her 1985 breakout hit. “It’s all about the groove and the vibe and the pocket. My music has always been about connecting. That’s what I think about every time I step on a stage.”
(Featured Photo: Matthew Murphy)