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'On Your Feet!' review: Gloria Estefan's music upstages the story

Ana Villafañe as Gloria Estefan in the musical

Ana Villafañe as Gloria Estefan in the musical "On Your Feet!" Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

BOTTOM LINE

Better music than story.

As jukebox musical biographies go, "On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan" doesn't have the depth and charm of "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" or the passion and fun of "Jersey Boys" (the Four Seasons musical).

What Broadway's newest entry in our unofficial personal-history-of-pop-music series has are lots of much-loved Grammy-winning songs by arguably America's most successful Latin crossover team. Significantly, the Estefans are a major producer of the show. There is also an excellent portrayal of Gloria by Ana Villafañe, complete with iconic toreador outfits and big luscious hair, and a really fine onstage orchestra driven by brass and Latin percussion.

The problem, which may not be a problem for many who have already pushed the advance sales into big numbers, is the by-the-numbers story. Although the show's website promises "Her voice. His vision. Their story," the book by Alexander Dinelaris has virtually no crises or conflicts that last long enough to drive the tension beyond the next song.

Young Gloria is too shy to like the spotlight? Blink and she has learned to love it. Emilio can't get the hotshot record producer to free the band from the Latin-only market? Look again. There is the whole cast and some theatergoers dancing up the aisle to "Conga," the irresistible English-language hit that ends the first act.

Both Gloria and producer-husband Emilio (the oddly uncomfortable Josh Segarra) have important but once-over-lightly back stories about their families' exiles from Cuba. But Gloria's struggle with her mother, who wants her to be a psychologist, does produce a terrific flashback to a Cuban club where she -- the dynamite Andréa Burns -- shows us the career she gave up.

The show's credentials are impressive -- including director Jerry Mitchell ("Kinky Boots") and choreographer Sergio Trujillo ("Jersey Boys") who designed the hard-driving, surprisingly repetitive and mechanical salsa dancing. David Rockwell's sets are atypically skimpy, with shadows of palm trees and tall panels depicting shutters. Kenneth Posner's lights toggle between purple Miami pastels and blinding concert beams.

The catastrophic tour-bus accident that almost paralyzed Gloria occupies a chunk of the second act, with perhaps the first physical-therapy scene ever in a musical. But when she makes her triumphant return at the American Music Awards, the script actually has Emilio say, "You go out on that stage and you show the world you're back!" He may, in fact, have actually said that. If so, his ace creative team might have done its producer a favor and dreamed up something original for him to say.

 

WHERE Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway

INFO $55-$149; 877-250-2929; onyourfeetmusical.com

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