Dallas — The careers of recording industry superstars Emilio and Gloria Estefan revolve around the quality of their music. The nostalgia and energy of Latin rhythms mixed with pop melodies propelled the Miami Sound Machine to the top of the charts. Gloria’s solo career and subsequent Spanish-language albums only added more diversity to her catalog, and the duo boasts a staggering 26 Grammy awards between the two of them.
Their unique musical sound drives Dallas Summer Musical’s most recent offering in a unique way. On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical dances into the Music Hall at Fair Park just in time to chase the rain away and bring the sunshine (and rhythm) of the islands.
Based on the life and career of the Estefans and using music almost solely from their catalog, the production takes viewers on a fervent, emotional journey through the highs and lows of stardom, conflicting family loyalties, and unwavering love through adversity. The creative team includes award-winning industry professionals who have worked on some of the hottest musicals on Broadway and on tour. The production boasts a book by Alexander Dinelaris (The Bodyguard), direction by Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots), and choreography by Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys, Memphis).
The musical team, though, is especially exceptional. Not only do five Miami Sound Machine members play in the orchestra, but veteran Clay Ostwald provides musical direction. With orchestrations by Gloria and Emilio Estefan and an original tune composed especially for this show by Gloria and her daughter Emily, the production holds an aura of authenticity and cohesiveness unlike many shows out there. Although Gloria has a distinct voice and performance, her songs transcend the performer, making it much easier for various actors to step into the role.
The opening visual highlights this emphasis on the music. A glowing purple curtain lifts to reveal the orchestra first, rather than the actors, with some of the ensemble providing a bit of percussion. After a Latin dance sequence that feels a bit rushed, the narrative begins at the height of the band’s career, and we catch a glimpse of Gloria (Christie Prades) and Emilio’s (Mauricio Martínez) relationship and their son Nayib (Jordan Vergara, alternating with Kevin Tellez).
“Tradición” (a track from 1993’s Mi Tierra) feels like it could’ve been written for the musical and provides an uplifting, colorful introduction to a sweet young Gloria (Amaris Sanchez, alternating with Carmen Sanchez) and her family life in Miami, including the influence of her Abuelita Consuelo (Debra Cardona). Fast-forward a bit to when she first meets Emilio, and Prades plays the shy, awkward songwriter to T. Her audition with the then-Miami Latin Boys kicks off more recognizable hits like “Anything for You, “1-2-3”, and “I See Your Smile”, the latter of which displays a steamy yet smitten Martínez and his suave vocals.
Family conflicts reveal more about Gloria’s reluctant mother (Nancy Ticotin), with a flashback to late-1950s Havana where she performs “Mi Tierra” before the Cuban revolution forces a move to Miami. Mid-century flashy dresses for the ladies and sharp suits and ties for the men combine with mambo choreography for a classic glamor that showcases Ticotin’s visceral and resonant pipes.
Gloria and Emilio’s attraction grows as their careers build to the iconic “Conga”, with a bit of intriguing origin information. Vergara steals the show with his Latin moves, and the final conga line moves into the audience with select patrons invited to join in Act I’s closing. Overall, the first half feels a bit underwhelming compared to the energy promised, but the narrative provides plenty of dramatic range for the main stars to shine.
Act II kicks off a deluge of spirited hits, as the band’s popularity sparks a demanding touring schedule, and this is where the ensemble shines. With multiple costume changes that display the talents of designer Emilio Sosa and a plethora of dancing styles (including a curious percussive dance segment), they pull off Trujillo’s vigorous choreography with style and sass. Jeremey Adam Rey especially stands out with his passion and vitality.
Conflict and tragedy spur a series of emotional moments with heartfelt songs to match, including the exquisite production exclusive “If I Never Got To Tell You” and a fluid dream sequence to “Wrapped.” The hardships of adversity allow for the typical hero dilemma and hesitancy, and it’s through the most endearing moment in the show (a tear-jerking “Reach”) that Gloria finds her strength and gives her triumphant performance of “Coming Out of the Dark” at the 1991 American Music Awards.
Running about two hours and 45 minutes, including intermission, the show contains some mild language and a few tense moments, but otherwise proves to be mostly family-friendly. The Estefans’ Cuban heritage and their struggles to break stereotypes reflect to some current issues, but refrains from pushing the issue too forcefully. The production simply lets the music speak for itself.
Make sure you stay after the bows, instead of rushing out to beat the traffic. It wouldn’t be a jukebox-style musical without a rousing sing-along at the end, and the performers blow it out of the water with a smash-hit medley for the curtain call.