Dallas — As part of its 2017-2018 season, the Music Hall at Fair Park is presenting the Broadway smash hit On Your Feet!, the musical about Gloria and Emilio Estefan. The touring cast is in Dallas through Sunday, and TheaterJones caught up with Nancy Ticotin, who stars as Gloria Estefan’s mother, Gloria Fajardo. You can read our review of the show here.
TheaterJones: How does this show compare to some of the other performances that you've been in, including movies and TV?
Nancy Ticotin: Well this is a wonderful role. I’ve done the role of Anita from West Side Story multiple times and as a principal role it comes close. I get to sing dance and act, and not just in everyday acting but it’s a dramatic role. She has some really dramatic scenes in the show which I really enjoy doing and that's challenging to me. I actually find the dramatic scenes more draining than the dance numbers. It's wonderful I mean I love the challenge the vocal challenge the physical dance challenge the dramatic emotional up-and-down of her character and the resolve that she gets to have at the end. I mean after the show many times, in the beginning, I would apologize to the girl who plays Gloria because my character so mean to her. I apologized and said “Oh I’m so sorry,” and she said “I love it, keep it up!” so I got permission. I love that I get to stretch myself in those different ways. It tends to be the most satisfying kind of job for me because I sing, dance and act I get to use all my skills.
What about performing with this cast on the tour?
How proud I am. I get to perform with an amazing ensemble cast, an amazing principal cast and the Miami Sound Machine is on stage with us, it's a dream come true. It's something like I never dreamt it; you know it is really like a little drop of candy in my lap. Now touring happens to be a very challenging thing because many times on our day off like yesterday we had what is called a golden day because it was a day off where we didn't have to travel, and that's the first time in six weeks that we had that. Where you didn't have to perform the night before you didn't have to travel with the truck because the tour is scheduled for two years so you have winter clothes, summer clothes, all this kind of stuff going on in your bag switch out depending on weather. From San Antonio next week we go to Chicago and we don’t know what the weather's going to be this so we have to switch out our clothes for colder weather, and so Sundays or Saturday night we have to pack our trunk up or unpack on trunk when we get to the new city and then on our day off we're off early packing our bags and suitcases on the bus to the airport or bus ride, then unpack once we get there. And that is our day off after doing eight shows a week.
Were a Gloria Estefan fan?
Oh my gosh yes! I mean when “Conga” came out I said, that’s it, that’s me, that’s my life. I mean for me it’s just like [an early] rap song. Learning to sing those lyrics so fast was a challenge to all of us. Singing “Come on, shake your body baby, do the conga / I know you can't control yourself any longer / Feel the rhythm of the music getting stronger” it was sort of a feather in your cap if you could master that. Growing up we just went crazy when her music hit the wave and that was sort of speaking to my culture. I'm Puerto Rican and Russian but grew up in the Bronx and you know my family is from Puerto Rico and I lived in Puerto Rico so I really identified with that kind of music and it really spoke to me. I was already a dancer in a dance company by that time, and I grew up with all her music. It’s so hard for me to go on stage when there singing “Party Time” and I have to stop bouncing my foot and focus on what I have to do next.
Are there any major changes to the traveling production from the Broadway production?
I think what's great is that directors allowed the new actors that came into these roles to be created themselves. I did not have to emulate the actress that played the role before me. They added dancing because of my dance ability, and the choreographer had known me for many, many years. We added and lifts and kicks and stuff like that, plus we don't have the same set as they had on Broadway, you know at one point she comes up from the ground into a lift, and you don't have those mechanisms on a traveling tour so we have what we call sliders that come in and out so people are walking behind the sliders as they appear behind it but it's preset. Those are the changes that everybody has to make, but otherwise, I think the most important is that they allowed us to be us and not try to mimic what was created on Broadway, they let bring our own take to the roles.
Is there is a message that audiences will take away from this show or one that you want them to feel after watching this?
I think that the truth in this story is to demonstrate what the American Dream is. Especially at this time in our history, our political history, we are all very aware of what’s going on in our country. In Washington, D.C., when the whole fiasco with DACA happened, and in the show when Emilio says “take a good look at my face because this is what an American looks like,” the whole place went crazy. The show stops. No matter where we go…Rochester, Dallas, the show stops when that line is read because of support for Americans. We are all dreamers and the Estefans, they really emulate and personify what the American Dream is against all odd. People told them they couldn't do it. The record producer said “we're not going to back you,” and they did it on their own. They became hugely successful and now they're huge philanthropists, helping and giving back to communities all around the world. We honor them and have so much respect for them, everyone in the cast. They are wonderful people so I think the mission of this story is to spread the message that shows [something] positive. It shows honor, it shows respect, it's love and excitement and joy and also the troubles of being in a family. Mothers, grandmothers, children that it's, just about being family and being humans and that we can relate to all people.
Is there a moment in the show that you're most excited to perform?
There are a lot of special moments, and emotional moments. She has the bus accident, and comes back from the accident, that’s a very dramatic scene. We have a rift between us where the mother and daughter don’t speak for two years, and when she comes back there is a beautiful ballad that I sing with Emilio, which was the only song written for the show. But I think “Conga” is the one everybody’s waiting for! That gets everyone in the audience standing on their feet and the dancers go into the audience and you’re left with this exhilarating feeling. I think that is the peak of it because that is what brought them to stardom.
How does your character shape the show?
Oh my gosh. I think my character creates all of the drama in the show. All of the drama is by her mother because the mother was very strong, very stubborn, very proud. She did not want her daughter to be a singing star, she did not want her to go travelling around with a band, she did not like Emilio at all until the bus accident when she found him crying in a closet.
This is true story, and then he became enamored to him because he never left her side and she saw that he was so dedicated to her and loyal and cherished her and then they became the best of friends the mother-in-law and son-in-law. She creates all the antagonism in the story like all the drama is from the mother. Gloria studied to be a psychologist, and she actually has a degree in psychology and the mother was resentful because the mother performed herself in Cuba. She had to leave when Castro came. Gloria was two years old and the husband had to stay because he worked for the general Batista and he had to stay for years because he was in jail.
This mother had a degree in childhood education, a Ph.D. in the 50s from Cuba. When she left they ripped up her degree in Cuba. The Cuban government took it away from her and then she had to come back to the United States support her family: her mother, her daughter, and then she had another daughter after the husband came back. She supported the family then went back to school got her degree in the United States. This is a woman in the fifties, and then you know it so this is stuff that people don't know. The daughter helped her because the father then went to Vietnam was exposed to Agent Orange develops multiple sclerosis, then everybody's at home taking care of him including Gloria.
She was like his nursemaid for a long time and when she left the house to do tours and singing and all that the mother hated it and was resentful because she had to give up her singing career. I have this big huge beautiful song number in the first act with the Miami Sound Machine with the dancers everything, and then in the middle of it there's a scene where he comes in to Batista is leaving and Castro is in and you have to leave. Then the song ends and then she has to leave with the family and he stays, so it's like all this drama surrounding what happened and then the mother, all this antagonism between her and son-in-law and resenting her daughter as well just created a lot of drama.
What is your favorite part about playing this role, and being in this production? Does it have any sentimental value for you?
Now this is the thing. My mother is from Puerto Rico. We are part of the United States and we are American citizens, but she came here to the United States and she got her college degree here and became a teacher, raised six kids, and went back to school got a master's degree in bi-lingual education and was a teacher in the New York City public school system for 20 years. I dedicated my performance to her, which is something I've never done in any of my shows, a personal dedication. I feel that there's an emotional connection there for me with my mother. I don't have the same antagonistic relationship with her, but I hold [this performance] dear and sacred to me because of that.
x On Your Feet! runs through Sunday, March 11, at the Music Hall at Fair Park.