The musical “On Your Feet!” opened yesterday at DeVos Performance Hall as part of the Broadway Grand Rapids Series. Love, passion, perseverance and a great beat underlie the musical — the story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan. The couple broke barriers, emigrating from Cuba to the United States and eventually becoming a pop sensation, with their music crossing lines between English and Spanish sounds and beats.
The story starts out with a young Gloria, passionate about singing and songwriting. When she’s 19, Emilio invites her to play a song at an upcoming show with his band, the Miami Latin Boys. After a great performance, she later joins the band, changing the name to Miami Sound Machine.
Early on in their careers, it was a challenge appealing to both American and Latino record producers and DJs with music that crossed cultures and traditional sounds. The music was either too Latin for “Americans” or too “American” for Latinos. Despite a record producer urging them to focus on the Latino market and stick to Spanish music, Gloria and Emilio decide otherwise, proving the producer wrong and creating the hit “Conga,” with a Latin beat and English lyrics.
As the band becomes increasingly successful, Gloria and Emilio’s connection begins to grow, along with her mother’s increasing disapproval of her career path and relationship, sparking a rift between mother and daughter.
At the height of their success, Gloria’s tour bus gets hit by a truck, causing a major spinal cord injury. While traumatic, the accident brings the family closer, reuniting Gloria with her mother. After a painful recovery and re-learning to walk again, she returns to the stage performing at the 1991 American Music Awards with the song “Into the Light.”
Gloria, with the support of Emilio, is a trailblazer in the music industry, paving a way for Latino artists and using her success to give back to the community.
“Gloria Estefan is me and my mom’s idol,” said 11-year-old Ana-Sofia Rodriguez, who played Little Gloria in Tuesday’s performance.
Gloria was played by Christie Prades during the opening show, a Cuban-American who has been singing, dancing and acting all her life, similar to Estefan.
“I get to literally represent where I come from, my culture. … I just get to be me on stage which is a blessing,” Prades said.
Prades’ face lights up with pride explaining her opportunity to represent Latinos, being part of real stories and sharing real truths.
“On Your Feet!” lives up to its name, if not more. With music that makes it nearly impossible to stay seated and skilled dancers in vibrant costumes, the musical is lively and exciting. The audience will experience full performances of hits like “Conga,” “Get On Your Feet,” “Rhythm is Gonna Get You” and “Turn the Beat Around.” If the music and dancing aren’t enough, the beautiful and triumphant story of Gloria and Emilio are more than enough to tug at the heartstrings. The relatable storyline and the upbeat, feel-good music make it a show anyone can enjoy.
No matter the language, music can connect us all. The story of Gloria and Emilio embodies the American Dream: how they embraced their Latino roots and built a life centered on their passion for music. “On Your Feet!” is more than a story of love and determination, but also of immigration and identity — making it a production that’s representative of America and what it means to be American.
“On Your Feet!” is playing at DeVos Performance Hall through Sunday, Feb. 24.
Photos of “On Your Feet!” © Matthew Murphy: top: Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan, Adriel Flete and company; middle: Alma Cuervo, Claudia Yanez, Christie Prades and Nancy Ticotin; bottom: Mauricio Martínez as Emilio Estefan and Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan and company.