On Your Feet! – Review by Tom Holehan

The showbiz drama, the rags to riches struggle for talented people to prove they have the goods, has been an entertainment staple for years. From “A Star Is Born” (four film versions!) to the recent Elton John biopic “Rocketman”, to Broadway fare like “Jersey Boys” and “The Cher Show”, musical biographies are hard to resist. So it is for the Westchester Broadway Theatre which is currently presenting the jukebox musical, “On Your Feet: The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan”.

Featuring music produced and recorded by the Estefans and the Miami Sound Machine and with a book by Alexander Dinelaris, “On Your Feet” is a pulsating, lively musical biography of the famous couple and their life-affirming journey from humble beginnings to superstardom. Even if you know little to nothing about the Estefan’s history, “On Your Feet” will seem familiar as this obviously talented couple meets cute, struggles to get recognized, faces discrimination, experiences a near-death experience and ends up at the top of the charts. In addition to the inevitable showbiz clichés, there are the familiar characters throughout “On Your Feet”. They include the greedy music executive and the doubtful parental figure who is overruled by the older, wiser grandmother. It’s interesting to note that Elton John’s grandmother, according to “Rocketman”, also played an important role in his eventual success over the disapproval of his parents.

Acknowledging the weaknesses of the book will not deter music fans from enjoying “On Your Feet”, however, and at WBT, though perhaps not quite up to Broadway standards (the chorus seems a tad underpopulated here), there is a company of performers who set the stage ablaze. As the lead couple, Maria Bilbao is a stunning Gloria Estefan who matches perfectly with Jose Luaces in the less showy but crucial role of Emilio. They sing beautifully together (“I See Your Smile”) and Bilbao does full justice to such classics as “Conga”, “Anything For You”, “Live For Loving You” and, naturally, “Get On Your Feet”.

In the complicated role of Gloria’s difficult mother, Karmine Alers doesn’t soften the character’s hard edges and does wonders with the tender ballad, “If I Never Get To Tell You”. Sandy Rosenberg, as the crowd-pleasing and warmly maternal Consuelo, Gloria’s loving grandmother, doesn’t pull focus when it would be very easy to do so. Director Donna Drake with choreographer Rhonda Miller deliver the goods throughout. “On Your Feet” is bound to please Estefan boosters and, in the process, may even gain Gloria and Emilio some new fans.

“On Your Feet” continues at the Westchester Broadway Theatre through August 4. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 914.592.2222 or visit: www.BroadwayTheatre.com.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor and resident critic of WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.