On Your Feet, the musical tribute to Emilio and Gloria Estefan is at The Festival Theatre this week (Monday 7th to Saturday 12th) bringing the colours, the Latin rhythms and the music of Cuba to an otherwise cold and dark October night in Edinburgh.
Like all “Juke-Box“ musicals, there is a formulaic element to “On Your Feet” and the problem of trying to arrange the lyrics of songs into a cohesive story line when they were never meant to be used like this it always going to be a problem too. Here however, the music and the words are used with great sensitivity to their roles in this story. What is making this musical a little bit different from so many other similar format shows around at the moment is that it does have a real story underpinning the music and the dance numbers, and that is because the story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan is one of the great real life modern fairy tales and love stories of modern times and, like all great fairy stories, dreams can come true, but at a price.
For me, any truly good musical stands not only upon its music, but the story underpinning everything, and if you take away the music, then the story should still be strong enough and interesting enough to be a show in its own right. This is the case right from the opening moments of bright colours and just sheer joy of being alive contrasting with some of the harsh realities of life in Gloria’s teenage years.
There is real tenderness at times in this story, particularly when we get an insight into Gloria’s family life. Despite the main story line obviously being how Gloria and Emilio met, and how they eventually achieved massive Latin/English language cross-over audience success, Gloria’s family, grandmother (Consuelo played by Laura Friedrich Tejero), mother (Gloria Fajardo played by Madalena Alberto), father (Jose Fajardo played by Martin McCarthy) and sister (Rebecca played by Francesca Lara Gordon) are real people and the depth given to Madalena Alberto’s character, Gloria Fajardo, as we explore earlier hopes and dreams of Gloria’s mother’s is full of warmth and emotion. The relationships between Gloria and her mother and Gloria and her grandmother are well defined here, and some moments with (and reflecting upon) her relationship with her father are touching upon heart-breaking.
Holding so much of this story together tonight though is the ability of Philippa Stefani as Gloria and Sharif Afifi as Emilio Estefan to make you believe that they really could be young lovers; there is an innocent playfulness about many of the earlier scenes that contrasts sharply with some of the darker moments in this story. Yes, there are some moments when Sharif Afifi is not note perfect, but to be honest that for me made his performance more human and believable, made Emilio more of a real person.
“On Your Feet” could really only come to life with a live band, and this one is very good, very tight and the authenticity of this band gives the dancers exactly those Latin rhythms that they need to bring much of Gloria Estefan & The Miami Sound Machine’s music to life.
“On Your Feet” might be the title of this show, and with some huge dance songs like “Dr Beat” and “1-2-3” to perform, it is easy to see how the show has its name, but it is all too easy at times to forget that Gloria and Emilio wrote some great ballads too, and “If I Never Got To Tell You” and “Coming Out Of The Dark” are fine examples of their songwriting skills.
From a production point of view, this show is very basic in areas such as set design. Here there are no huge sets or video screens everywhere and to be honest this show does not need any of that if the story and the music are both strong enough elements on their own, and here they are.
If you have not gone to this show yet because you see it only as a dance musical, then give it a try as it is far more than just that. The story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan with its many highs and lows is an inspirational one to many people as is Gloria’s own will to overcome huge personal barriers in her life.
A sad thought for me at the end of this show was just how much America must be losing on many cultural levels alone by the current administration’s attempts to make sure that modern day Glorias and Emilios never get the chance to come to America and make their dreams come true.
Review by Tom King