There may never have been a more aptly named musical than “On Your Feet.”
One audience member certainly thinks so. As the cast of the show snaked through the Orpheum Theater aisles on opening night, they were looking to grab someone from the crowd. A woman across from me was approached once and demurred, but when another dancer was more insistent, resistance was futile.
She embraced the fun soon enough, even singing along to “Conga,” the high-powered finale to the first act.
She wasn’t alone in her enthusiasm. “On Your Feet,” the story of Miami Sound Machine’s Gloria and Emilio Estefan, is quite the infectious show. It premiered Tuesday night as part of the Omaha Performing Arts Broadway Series, and I found myself marveling at the dance moves much of the night.
Here are my impressions of the performance:
» The cast is first-rate.
Claudia Yanez, who plays Gloria Estefan, is a wonder. It doesn’t hurt that she looks like her character. If you didn’t know better, you’d think it was Gloria herself onstage, especially in song-and-dance scenes. Nancy Ticotin, a film and TV veteran (“Orange is the New Black”), plays Gloria’s mother, who shines in some of the more dramatic moments in the play. She also performs an amazing Latin number in a flashback to her character’s days in Cuba.
She probably was my favorite in the show, although she had stiff competition from two charming kids: Carmen Sanchez as Little Gloria and Jordan Vergara in three roles. Be on the lookout for Jordan’s crazy hoofing skills.
Eddie Noel as Emilio and Debra Cardona as Gloria’s abuela (grandma) also were worth watching, as is the entire ensemble. There’s not a dud in the bunch.
» The story is engaging, though not developed as much as it could have been ...
In vignettes, we learn about Gloria’s dad’s multiple sclerosis and time in Vietnam; both families’ escapes from Cuba; conflict that occurs when Mom disagrees with Gloria’s career choice (paraphrased: “She has a degree. She could have been something else instead of a touring musician.”); Gloria’s resentment that she was expected to run the household when her mom went back to college; Gloria’s struggle to come back after a serious touring bus accident. None of those things goes very deep, however.
» ... But for better or worse, drama’s the secondary purpose of the show.
It’s designed as a string of volatile, exciting and well-executed song-and-dance numbers and soulful ballads, basically a showcase for the hits of Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine. And that’s more than fine. Favorites include “Anything for You,” (inspired by her abuela), “Don’t Wanna Lose You,” “If I Never Got to Tell You” and the evening’s highlight, “Conga,” which is still swirling through my brain about 16 hours later. And I do know more about the Estefans and Latin music than I did before I saw the show.
» Compared to the last production at the Orpheum, the set is spare.
It’s not fair to compare it to “Aladdin,” given that dazzling golden cave scene. My intention is more to contrast scenic design styles and needs of disparate shows.
For its purposes, “On Your Feet” created a lot with a few pieces: large, movable wall segments that sometimes served as scenery, sometimes as signs and sometimes even as walls with windows, etc. With clever lighting and projections, they conveyed whatever they needed to convey.
Other projections (outdoor landscapes, for instance) on a backdrop completed the scene, though crew members need to figure out how to stop the backdrop from swaying, which ruined the effect a couple of times.
» The 10-piece orchestra, featuring four members of Miami Sound Machine, sounded like it was twice its size.
It was one of the best-prepared ensembles I’ve ever heard in a traveling Broadway show. The instrument mix was awesome and they just plain rocked whatever they played (lots and lots of intricate Latin beats, of course). It was onstage on a movable platform for the bulk of the show, and it deserved the attention.
» Nobody wanted to go home. And that included the performers.
The curtain call was one big after-party, with a couple of additional songs and more dancing. Voices still were clear and strong. Dancers looked like they could keep going all night. They may have been dreaming of tea and heating pads, but you wouldn’t know it.
A few people around us streamed out as soon as the show ended (perhaps they had to see Jimmy Kimmel or were due at work in five hours), but most of the crowd stuck around, on their feet. And after the actors were gone, the band kept playing.
You’ll get your money’s worth at this one.
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