As exciting and highly polished Cuban – American songs and dance go, this UK touring musical On Your Feet has it all. There are plenty of punchy and sometimes sensitive arrangements of twenty six of Emilio and Gloria Estefan’s songs to get the heart stirring and the blood pumping. Expect some of the most iconic pop songs of the era including Rhythm Is Gonna Get You, Conga, Get On Your Feet, Anything For You, Famous, 1-2-3 and an emotionally re-arranged for the Emilio Estefan character, version of Don’t Want To Loose You Now.
The book by Alexander Dinelaris takes us from teenager Gloria Fajardo meeting, and eventually falling in love with Emilio Estefan, through their trials and tribulations of them trying to succeed in the Cuban music business with their Miami Sound Machine sound, and their initial struggles to break into the American music charts. They were considered too Latin. Then there is the near tragic 1990 tour bus crash which leaves Gloria potentially paralysed and her vast multitude of fans praying for her recovery.
The musical drama sees us privy to Gloria’s (Philippa Stefani) family battles with her stubborn mother Gloria Fajardo (Madalena Alberto) who is against her working in the music business and not too happy about her daughter’s new relationship with Emilio Estefan (George Ioannides) who she believes will exploit her then leave her without work. A lot of the mother’s opinions are based on how she was treated in her own Cuban song and dance career alongside historical events which put a dramatic stop to her hopes and dreams. Alberto gives us a realistic and passionate and embittered mother figure who, if fate had dealt better cards, might have been professional singer and dancer. Her flashback to the Montmartre Club where she sings and dances is electric. Stefani and Ioannides have a great deal of believable chemistry and romance in their lead roles and they possess strong emotional voices that give huge vocal authenticity to the songs.
We also have the Grand-Mother figure Consuelo who, this evening, is played by the most excellent Hollie Cassar. Cassar’s vocal and physical enthusiasms towards Gloria and Emilio hopes and successes light up the stage each time she is on. Considering that Cassar is probably only in her mid twenties the transformation into the elderly Consuelo is remarkable. Gloria’s father José Fajardo is warmly and sympathetically done by Elia Lo Tauro both in his retrospective appearances and those when he is ill. The large On Your Feet ensemble have enough energy to light up a city and the Nottingham Theatre Royal certainly seems very bright tonight. Adding very much to the mix is the live band led by musical director Danny Belton.
From the reaction of the Nottingham Theatre Royal audience tonight it is clear that the Estefans have plenty of fans locally as well as worldwide. As Gloria once sang ‘Que Siga la Tradicion!” – let the tradition continue. Now let’s Conga! Oye Oye!
On Your Feet runs at Nottingham Theatre Royal 16-21 Sept.
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