"On Your Feet!" Lives Up to the Title

There are few who don't know the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan: Miami party band with strong Latin beat crosses over to top 40 radio and becomes an international phenomenon when tragedy strikes.

The musical "On Your Feet!" follows the Miami Sound Machine from its early days as the Miami Latin Boys through Gloria Estefan's top billing. In between, it flashes back to Gloria's family ties to pre-Castro Cuba and lays bare the family's conflicts between being true to their heritage and embracing their new home.

The tour's "Gloria," Christie Prades, was an understudy for the role on Broadway before taking over the role on the national tour a year and a half ago. It's obvious she is comfortable in the role, as she slides effortlessly from the teenage Gloria singing for Emilio for the first time, to the polished performer we see at the end of the show.

Besides telling the Estefans' story, though, the musical also pulls the curtain back on the record industry in the 1970s and '80s. And we do mean 'record' industry, because we see Emilio and company beg and (sometimes) bribe influential Miami DJs to play their new 45 on the air--then get their friends to flood the stations with song requests.

That made them chart toppers with Latin Americans, but we learn that their success didn't make the road any easier when they wanted to cross over to a wider American audience. We see the struggle the band goes through not just to get their first English-language song on the air, but to get backing from the record companies to promote it. (See "Bohemian Rhapsody" and Queen's own struggles.)

So it shouldn't be any surprise that when the Estefans came up with the idea of making a musical of their lives, they took a similar route, pitching their story to the Nederlander Organization and eventually getting the backing to get it on stage.

It comes, of course, with its own soundtrack featuring such hits as "Conga," "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You" and the title track, but also includes the original song "If I Never Got to Tell You" with lyrics by Gloria Estefan and music by her daughter Emily.

The "jukebox musical" uses the band's hits to literally make the audience part of the show, first at the end of Act One when the cast comes into the aisles for "Conga," then at the end with an encore mini-concert. It's an enjoyable performance that leaves the audience "on their feet."

"On Your Feet!" continues this week through the 24th at the Aronoff Center. Get tickets at cincinnatiarts.org.

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