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Gloria Estefan spreads "a message of love" with "On Your Feet!" musical
Count Gloria and Emilio Estefan among those surprised by the success of “On Your Feet!”
The stage musical, which tells the story of the couple’s rise to musical stardom during the ’80s with Miami Sound Machine and beyond, has been a worldwide hit. Boasting hits such as “Conga,” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” “1-2-3” and the title song, “On Your Feet!” received a Tony Award nomination for Best Choreography and won a pair of Theatre World Awards. It was a box office smash in Chicago, where it debuted during in summer 2015, and on Broadway, where it ran for 780 performances. Its international footprint includes a current run in the Netherlands with productions on tap for Germany, Spain, Italy, France Japan and Mexico.
Clearly, “On Your Feet!” blew up bigger than its subjects or producer/writers ever expected.
“It wasn’t ever planned,” Gloria Estefan, 60, says by phone from Miami, where she and Emilio reside. “It’s not like Emilio and I said, ‘Let’s do a Broadway show!’ It’s a risky thing to do.” But Estefan has a good idea why “On Your Feet!” connects so well.
“The message is one of love. It’s a love story,” the multiplatinum, Grammy Award-winning singer says. “It’s obviously a personal one between Emilio and me. It’s also a love story about the native country where we were born (Cuba) and the adopted country (America) that opened its arms to us. It’s a love story to the American Dream because we lived it. And it’s a love story, obviously, to the music.
“We want people to take away something from this. We just want to take them on an emotional journey they didn’t know they’d be on. My favorite thing is to make people cry. When you move someone to tears, it means you’ve gone beyond mere entertainment. That’s what we hoped for with this musical, and it happens, every night.”
There’s certainly plenty of pathos in “On Your Feet!,” especially for a production that revels in the redemptive powers of music and boasts plenty of ebullient dance numbers. But the musical also delves into the plight of Cuban refugees in the U.S., Estefan’s issues with her parents and, of course, the 1990 tour bus crash that fractured her spine and led to a comeback with her biggest hit, “Coming Out of the Dark.”
“I want to make people think about how precious life is and how they don’t want to waste a moment,” Estefan says. “We were at the top of our game the best possible moment in our lives and careers one moment, and the next it crashed. I had to literally relearn to walk. We learned a lot, and we’re passing it on here.”
Estefan says she and her husband were first approached about a theater piece 25 years ago, though it wasn’t biographical. “We thought it was premature at that moment,” Estefan recalls, “but we said if we ever get the chance, we’ll do it. We knew it would be something that took a lot of time and attention.” The right time came in 2012, when Broadway producer Bernie Yuman pitched the idea to the couple.
“Everything happened quickly,” says Estefan, who wrote one new song, “If I Never Got To Tell You,” for the musical with her daughter Emily. “We loved the idea, and in less than three years we went from inception to being on the stage, which is unheard of. The universe really conspired to help us. Everything went great.”
Having the show touring is also meaningful. “That’s where we come from. I was a touring artist,” Estefan says. “I think (the cast) really enjoys changing cities. It refreshes the show every time you do it in a different place. The energy of a different crowd is really reflected in the shows.”
Though Estefan’s career has continued since 1991, when “On Your Feet!” ends, there are no plans for a sequel. Estefan herself is working on a number of business interests with Emilio, including a multiplatform project she plans to announce soon that will encompass music, movies and television. She’s also re-recording a number of her hits as well as four new songs with native rhythms in Brazil, which she hopes to release during 2019.
Estefan has stayed off the road since 2004, but she does try to catch “On Your Feet!” when she gets the chance — even if she “never gets used to” seeing her life story portrayed on stage.
“Watching those audiences for me has really bolstered my thankfulness and love and support my fans have given me and continued to give me through the decades, and how connected we all are,” Estefan says. “We just feel very thankful we’ve been in any way able to inspire people in different ways, and have them inspire us in return. It’s been a real joy, and a gift.”
If You Go
• “On Your Feet!” runs May 1-13 at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Tickets are $39-$107. Call 313-872-1000 or visit broadwayindetroit.com.
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