WHAT "On Your Feet!"
WHEN | WHERE Through May 25, The Gateway, 215 S. Country Rd., Bellport
INFO $69-$89; 631-286-1133, thegateway.org
BOTTOM LINE An entertaining look at Gloria Estefan's path to stardom.
One thing I learned from "On Your Feet!" the Gloria Estefan bio-musical: Despite a natural love of music, she originally intended to become a psychologist.
How she abandons that goal and charts her path to superstardom is traced in relatively straightforward detail in the enjoyable if not entirely refined production that opens the season at The Gateway in Bellport. It all starts when a young Gloria Fajardo is introduced to Emilio Estefan, who’s looking for a singer to join his band. Reticent for, oh, maybe 30 seconds, she finds her voice and her passion a little too quickly perhaps, but as is often the case with this kind treatment, there’s a lot of story to pack into a show that runs just over two hours.
Once married, the Estefans are at odds with everyone from her formidable mother, who’s none to happy with her daughter's choices (career or romantic), to the judgmental music industry that is reluctant to embrace the crossover Latin vibe of the group eventually known as the Miami Sound Machine.
Director Keith Andrews has packed the company with veterans of the show, both from the Broadway production that ran nearly two years and subsequent tours. Marina Pires dazzles as Gloria, capturing the dogged perseverance that helped the singer recover from a near fatal bus crash in 1990 and soaring in major hits like "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You" and especially "Conga," the first act closer that had the audience dancing in the aisles. As Emilio Estefan, Eddie Noel is endearing, especially in love songs like "I See Your Smile." Karmine Alers is a force as Gloria’s mother, and Sydia Cedeno almost steals the show as the loving abuela determined to keep her granddaughter on the right path.
Despite some sound problems and a couple of tentative performances and dance hiccups on opening night, there's plenty to entertain in this production that makes great use of original Broadway sets (David Rockwell) and costumes (Emilio Sosa). Maria Torres' high-octane choreography is so much fun it will probably send half the audience out for salsa lessons.
Above all, this is a love story — the love of Gloria and Emilio, of course, but also the love of family and most especially the love of the fans, whose heartfelt letters gave Gloria reason to fight back from her devastating injuries. The show closes with Gloria's emotional comeback performance at the American Music Awards in January 1991. "Coming out of the dark, I finally see the light," she sings, her voice momentarily catching. There’s hardly a dry eye in the house.