We met three cast members — Ana Villafañe who stars as Gloria Estefan, Eduardo “Eddie” Hernandez as Little Emilio and Madison Elizabeth Lagares as Little Gloria from the Broadway hit musical “On Your Feet” before a recent performance. We sat with them in the Marriott Marquis Theater.
How long did it take to perfect the choreography?
Ana: It took approximately three weeks to learn the original choreography. But it was a good lesson because I was here with the original chorus so we created the show together. I’m sure Eddie remembers that they would change certain numbers and then we would have to remember that and then learn a new version and it kind of finally got settled once we opened on Broadway. So, I would say about four weeks for what we have now.
What’s it like to be the main role?
Ana: It’s exhilarating. It makes me feel very honored and very humbled. And it also gives me a big sense of responsibility because I want to make sure that it never goes to my head, that it never becomes an egotistical thing that I’m like, “Oh, I’m the main role.” I think about Gloria and about telling her story. I like to be a friend to everybody in the theater. If anybody in the theater ever needs help or support or anything, I have an open-door policy in my dressing room, that anybody can always come in. I want everybody to feel comfortable with me because that’s what I want to be on stage.
What inspired you to act?
Eddie: Will Smith, because when I was 8, me, my brother and my father, in the mornings, used to watch “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” And Will Smith was a troublemaker. He’s just like me. He’s the one that inspired me mostly to be an actor.
Madison: Probably Sarah Brightman. She inspired me because I started singing at about 18 months. And so when I started singing, every time when my mother would take me to work with her, I would always sit in the back of the car, eating my oatmeal and then I would watch Sarah Brightman singing. I asked my mom, “What in the world is she doing with her face while she’s singing?” And she said, “That’s called acting.” And so I’m like, “I want to learn to do it, too.”
Were you nervous when you auditioned?
Madison: When I auditioned, I was very nervous. I had to go to the bathroom like four times. And I was like, I was in the bathroom, I was thinking, “What in the world?” I felt like I was having an asthma attack, which I have asthma. This is like my biggest audition that I’ve ever done, and I’ve auditioned for Broadway shows. But when I auditioned for this one, I just had that feeling that this, if I got this, it would be a big part of my life, that I would remember it. I’m just blessed that I am a part of this. And yes, so I was nervous.
Which did you find the most difficult: memorizing the dances or your lines?
Madison: It was memorizing the dances. Because I’ve done shows before. I’ve been doing like smaller shows here and there. And I’ve never been doing dance classes or anything so dancing was the hardest because I had to learn how to get that rhythm in me. And I still am learning, and still getting used to it. I’m starting to get the rhythm in me.
Eddie: Memorizing the lines. Because I was a little shy, but after like a few weeks I started getting that shyness out of me. But the dancing, it was pretty easy to learn.
Ana: I think for me, because I don’t leave the stage very much in the show, the lines, I don’t really memorize lines. I memorize the story. And I memorize my intentions and I memorize what the character wants in each scene. Because I grow up throughout the shows. Gloria goes from 17 to 33 years old in 2 1⁄2 hours. That’s a lot of growing up. That’s a lot of life experience that’s happening within the show, at least for me. . . . Obviously I have to get the words right, because the writing is very specific. But I wanted to put it all together so it’s not as much about lines and dance moves, it’s about one story that includes all of it. So then it’s kind of like one cohesive piece. So if I had to just say the lines without doing my choreography or doing my blocking, it would be kind of like weird for me. I would say that the dancing was harder just because I’d never seen myself as a dancer, which is crazy considering how much I dance in this show.
What was it like to be on stage with Gloria Estefan at the 70th annual Tony Awards?
Ana: I just got chills thinking about it, remembering it. To be performing with Gloria, after especially devoting so much of my time to playing her, was something I’ll never forget. It’s like a dream. You know, because you’re performing with kind of royalty. She’s an international superstar and she’s an icon. And she represents a lot of our culture. That was really cool. We had a really good time that night.
Do you think the audience is inspired by the story?
Eddie: I mean probably because I always see a smile, a smile when we’re at the stage door, they say, “Oh, you did so good!” And I’m inspired because like, Emilio, I’m inspired by Emilio and Gloria, too. But Emilio, he never gave up.