The Source for Media Coverage of The Arts in Miami.
Articles, reviews, previews and features on dance and music performances and events.
Sign Up
No one logged in. Log in

'On Your Feet:' The Estefans Make Dreams, Music Come Alive Once Again

Photo: Photo: Matthew Murphy
Written by: Christine Dolen
Article Rating

After a tryout run in Chicago, 34 previews and 746 performances on Broadway, and a tour launch in Buffalo, “On Your Feet!” has finally opened in the place where Cuban-born music superstars Gloria and Emilio Estefan made their dreams come true: Miami.

At Friday’s red carpet opening at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, with the Estefans and their extended family in attendance, this made-for-Miami bio musical played to an audience that loved it and got it, down to the most fleeting references to radio stations, now-defunct clubs and the personal twists of Cuban exile history.

Jukebox musical aficionados might argue that “Jersey Boys” (about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons) or “Beautiful” (about Carole King) represent the pinnacle of the form, but they’d get plenty of pushback from the thousands who will see “On Your Feet!” during its Arsht Center run through Oct. 15.hrough their talent, intense work ethic and entrepreneurial imagination, the Estefans have become extraordinarily successful since a young Emilio asked a teenaged Gloria to sing with the band that became the Miami Sound Machine.Their inspiring story is also emblematic of the American Dream, with all its possibilities. That dream, as Gloria Estefan reminded the cheering audience from the stage at the end of the show, remains very much alive, despite the current political climate.

With a script by Oscar winner Alexander Dinelaris (the “Birdman” co-screenwriter who attended Barry University for a couple of years), the musical mixes romance, loss, prejudice, estrangement and reconciliation in a story nestled among a joyous, moving catalog of hits.

Most of the songs were written by Gloria Estefan or by the couple; pop star Jon Secada, Miami Sound Machine members Clay Ostwald and Jorge Casas (part of the killer onstage band), and the Estefans’ singer-songwriter daughter Emily (who collaborated with her mom on the moving “If I Never Got To Tell You”) are among the other contributors to the show’s immediately familiar score.

Peppering his tale with emotionally potent flashbacks, Dinelaris tells the story of a girl who grew up under the ever-vigilant eye of a controlling mother and a boy who arrived in Miami at 14 only to discover signs reading “No Pets, No Cubans” on Miami motels and apartment buildings.

Gloria (the radiant Christie Prades) was a music-loving teen songwriter headed toward a psychology degree at the University of Miami when she met the four-years-older Emilio (the magnetic Mexican actor-singer Mauricio Martinez), the brains behind the Miami Latin Boys. The two clicked in a major way: The Miami Latin Boys soon became the Miami Sound Machine, with Gloria becoming lead singer, frequent songwriter and, as of 1978, Emilio’s wife.

“On Your Feet!” chronicles the couple’s spectacular highs and the obstacles – professional and personal – the two faced.The music industry wanted to pigeonhole Miami Sound Machine as a Latin band, but Emilio had boundless crossover dreams. When a defiant Martinez says to a music executive, “Look at my face. Whether you know it or not, this is what an American looks like,” the audience of diverse Americans lets out an empathetic roar.

Closer to home, the Estefans had struggled with the early death of Gloria’s father José Fajardo (Jason Martinez), a Bay of Pigs and Vietnam War veteran debilitated by multiple sclerosis after exposure to Agent Orange.

They also faced the boundless disapproval of Gloria’s mother, Gloria Fajardo (Nancy Ticotin), a teacher and talented singer whose father had denied her the chance to become the Spanish voice of Shirley Temple. The senior Gloria didn’t think much of musicians – her son-in-law in particular – and the Estefans’ insistence that Gloria’s younger sister Rebecca (Claudia Yanez) come with them on tour led to an estrangement that might have dragged on and on were it not for the 1990 bus crash that nearly claimed Gloria Estefan’s life.

As depicted in “On Your Feet!,” Gloria Fajardo rushed from Miami to the Manhattan hospital where her daughter lay with a fractured spine and an uncertain future, only to find Emilio there weeping. The two sing Gloria and Emily Estefan’s “If I Never Got To Tell You,” a poignant song full of love and regret. Distraught, fearful and defiant, Emilio swears, “She’s not going to die. Not before me, anyway.”

And at that moment in the opening night audience, taking in a scene they lived and have watched many times, Gloria Estefan put her head on her husband’s shoulder, and he kissed her.

Though it acknowledges the couple’s trials and losses, “On Your Feet!” is largely two and a half hours of sheer joy.

Director Jerry Mitchell and associate director Andy Señor Jr. – a raised-in-Miami talent whose bandleader father was the Fajardos’ neighbor in Cuba – are inspired in their staging of intimate scenes and large-scale dance numbers. Tony Award-nominated choreographer Sergio Trujillo, whose credits include “Jersey Boys” and “Memphis,” has done an exquisite job of pairing vibrant Latin dance moves with the music. And oh, that music.

On an upstage bandstand that sometimes brings them down front and center, the band delivers Miami Sound Machine-worthy renditions of hit after hit (the Estefans did the orchestrations). You’ll hear “Conga,” “Dr. Beat,” “Don’t Wanna Lose You,” “Here We Are,” “Live for Loving You,” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” “Turn the Beat Around” and more, plus the irresistible call that is “Get On Your Feet.”

David Rockwell’s set, Darrel Maloney’s projections, Kenneth Posner’s lighting and Emilio Sosa’s costumes conjure everything from the look and vibrant sunsets of Miami through different eras to that life-altering bus crash on a snowy Pennsylvania road.

Led by Prades and Martinez, charismatic singers with a sizzling chemistry, the cast is loaded with talent. Alma Cuervo, reprising her role from the Broadway production, brings warmth and a touch of mischief to Gloria’s abuela Consuelo. Ticotin conveys the diva who might have been as she sings “Mi Tierra” in Havana before Gloria Fajardo’s life is forever altered.Carmen Sanchez (alternating with Amaris Sanchez) shines as Little Gloria, the girl who can’t stop singing, and Jordan Vergara (alternating with Kevin Tellez) is a dancing powerhouse as the bar mitzvah boy Jeremy, the Estefans’ son Nayib and Young Emilio.Jason Martinez is a moving presence as José Fajardo, who never got to see his daughter and son-in-law’s dazzling success.

Those achievements, which include President Barack Obama awarding the couple the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 and Gloria Estefan becoming the first Cuban-American to receive the Kennedy Center Honors (that will happen in December), make up the fabric of an extraordinary journey.

Since “On Your Feet!” opened in the fall of 2015, the political and the personal have shifted for the Estefans. The election that seems to have endangered the American Dream happened; President Trump, breaking with tradition, won’t attend the Kennedy Center Honors. And in July, the indomitable Gloria Fajardo passed away.

Still, “On Your Feet!” represents, as the Estefans intended, a source of inspiration set to the soundtrack of their lives. Many in the thoroughly entertained and often moved Miami audience would claim that soundtrack too.

“On Your Feet!,” Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 15. Cost:$29-$145; 305-949-6722 or



Leave a comment...
Must be Logged in
No one logged in. Log in
Leave a comment...
Was this helpful?
No Very

Captcha Image

About The writer


Here’s a riddle – name the 1892 box office flop panned by critics for lack of seriousness and for casting too many kids, which has now transformed into a force of nature timed to occur yearly..

It happens every year, right around Thanksgiving, productions of the Nutcracker pop up from coast to coast, marking the start of the holiday season. But on Saturday, Miami audiences have the ..

As Art Week approaches, Miami choreographer Marissa Alma Nick’s Alma Dance Theater is getting ready to add its distinctive voice, rehearsing for the upcoming performance of “Flowers” at the C..

Promising a night of airiness and ardor, Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami will bring “Ballet’s Pointe of Passion” to the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, where the company joins an att..

Great friendships can nurture and prod an artist to make greater work. Think Pablo Picasso and Wifredo Lam, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Such is also the case fo..

It’s a tall order to present a season as surprising as it is moving, as disturbing as it is delightful. Miami-Dade College’s Live Arts 2017-2018 season -- Ojala/Inshallah: Wishes from the Mu..

It was only a few decades ago that finding a professional, locally produced performance was an aerobic dance in itself. But after the Miami City Ballet (established 1985), the New World Schoo..

A 50th anniversary calls for gold in celebration. But Balanchine’s “Jewels”­—a sublime marriage of music and choreography from 1967—brings Emeralds, Rubies,and Diamonds. Those pre..

When the Limon Dance Company returns to Miami-Dade this weekend, it brings with it the powerful vision of founder José Limon. He was a man deeply concerned about and connected to the humanity..

When Cardi B, with her trademark no-filter attitude, raps in her recent hit “Bodak Yellow” – Now I don’t got to dance/I make money move – she has something to sing about, with her smash hit N..

Despite a packed show schedule, including performing with the Frankfurt Opera in “Rinaldo,” Sarasota native, dancer and choreographer James McGinn had a chance to discuss the upcoming dance-opera ..

Anniversaries usually celebrate the success of a partnership with symbolic gifts of crystal, china, silver and gold. For the Arts Ballet Theater of Florida, the company celebrates 20 years of..

The songs are familiar; the love story is also familiar but made fresh in “On Your Feet!,” the musical biography that comes to Miami this week. The narrative of Emilio and Gloria Estefan meet..

Dance lovers in Miami know that for the past two decades the International Ballet Festival of Miami (IBFM) has made the city in September a magnet for the brightest stars in the world of bal..

Orlando Taquechel, dance critic for two decades at the El Nuevo Herald (and now a contributor to Artburst), will have a book signing and discussion of his new book, “La danza in Miami (1998-..

The name Flamenco conjures the machine-gun snap of heels, arms arched overhead, the flick of red fabric and laser-like glares from beneath the starched black brim of a Cordobes hat. At the ed..

Watching Neri Torres rehearse is a study in focus and concentration. She demonstrates each step with an ease developed from years of immersion in the study and performance of Afro-Cuban ..

Miami-based organization Delou Africa has been the ambassador of African dance and drumming in South Florida for the last 30 years. It started as a performing company, and has since expanded..

Miami Beach’s old city hall on a Thursday evening in June made a surreal set up for anyone familiar with tango’s broody scene -- a large cozy room full of cheerful, laughing, and smiling..

When Ballet Flamenco La Rosa takes to the stage this weekend, it will present a program based on traditions which were handed down through the ages. A program filled with the mysteries of fl..

With every great new love, the beginning is a crucible of extremes – will it endure for decades or permanently scar?The program for Dimensions Dance Theater of Miami’sJuly 8show, “Fiebre: A N..

With a heightened emphasis on “Noise” as an innovative musical genre, this sixth installment of the Miami Performance Festival International (M/P’17), running June 23 to 25, challenges South..

After 17 years as a principal dancer with the esteemed San Francisco Ballet, dancing every major role and style possible, Lorena Feijoo is retiring from that company to embark on a new journe..

Miami choreographer Marissa Alma Nick is a storyteller. Her company Alma Dance Theater brings a particularly female inner world to the stage, through lush and sensual choreography. Nick’s..

Pools are ubiquitous in Miami. They dot the landscape like Jackson Pollock drip paintings. Residents swim or idle the hours away by or in the pool – and dancers of Momentum Dance Company also perf..

May’s “Mujeres” series of strong, multi-faceted, women-focused productions, commissioned for Miami Theater Center’s SandBox space, concludes with Spanish-born dancer-choreographer Carlota Pr..

One could say that Bistoury’s 305 & Havana International Improv Fest, which debuts this Saturday at Miami Theater Center, has been in the works for almost 20 years. In 1999 Cuban-born cho..

We know it’s the holiday season when trees light up, menorah candles start to burn, ubiquitous Christmas carols pipe through drugstores, “The Nutcracker” plays on every stage – and in recent ..

Late last year, on Dec. 20, 2016, Romero Britto and Mark Bryn hosted the Great Artists Series Cocktail Reception at the Britto Fine Art Gallery to celebrate the legendary impresaria, Judy Dru..

Everyone remembers a lost weekend, binge reading a novel whose ending had to wait because the body just gave out. No matter how compelling the story somewhere around the 30th hour the brain s..

Globalization has produced many stories —not all inspiring. But having a Pakistani ensemble become a worldwide sensation by playing Paul Desmond’s immortal “Take Five,” which pianist Da..

When the management of New York’s iconic Apollo Theater approached drummer Gregg Field last year about organizing a concert there in honor of the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth..

They’ve opened a Chanel fashion show in Havana and been featured in Beyoncé’s visual album for “Lemonade.” The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has danced to their music. Their Florida debu..

There are few artists who have had the impact in their disciplines that guitarist Paco De Lucía had in flamenco. There is a before-and-after De Lucía in flamenco. He expanded the harmonic voc..

Yoli Mayor is a 22-year old Miami native who won over the judges of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” with her power voice (think Adele mixed with Etta James). This weekend, Miami audiences will h..

You might expect something a tad unusual from a jazz band comprised of Bulgarians and Cubans that’s led by the principal percussionist of the Miami Symphony Orchestra. And that’s what you’ll ..

La tradicional temporada de Cascanueces del Miami City Ballet (MCB) tendrá algo nuevo este año. La compañía que dirige Lourdes López ha decidido renovar los diseños de la superproducción que..

El programa que Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami (DDTM) presentó el sábado pasado en su exitoso debut como compañía en residencia del South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center (SMDCAC) y a solo ..

Hay pocos artistas que han tenido el impacto en sus disciplinas como el guitarrista Paco De Lucía tuvo en flamenco. En este género, hay un antes y después de De Lucía. Expandió el vocabul..

Dance NOW! Miami, la Florida Dance Education Organization (FDEO), Miami Dance Futures y la New World School of the Arts (NWSA) colaboraron el fin de semana pasado para presentar la Daniel Lew..

Esta es una gran noticia para el público amante del ballet en Miami. Tras un paréntesis de diez años en los que solo nos visitó de manera esporádica, la Primera Bailarina mexicana Katia Carra..

Solo hay que aplicar el concepto “seis grados de separación” a uno de los artistas que se han presentado en las Galas de Estrellas del Festival Internacional de Ballet de Miami (IBFM por sus ..

El debut de Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami (DDTM) en noviembre del año pasado fué un acontecimiento artístico y un descubrimiento sumamente agradable. Una sola función en el Miami-Dade Cou..

El festival “Out in the Tropics”, patrocinado por Fundarte en conjunto con el Centro Cultural Español y el Miami Book Fair International, normalmente trae artistas del mundo LGBTQ e hispanoha..

La Gala anual de Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami (CCBM) es un evento que esperan con ansiedad los aficionados al ballet en Miami y, sobre todo, los admiradores del estilo cubano. Desde su deb..