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Estefan musical will get you "On Your Feet!" at the Fisher
In a recorded message just before the start of their musical “On Your Feet!,” Gloria and Emilio Estefan tells the audience that “we hope you enjoy the show.”
It’s hard not to.
Though it documents some of the darker moments in the pop hit-making couple’s life together -- including parental conflicts and, most notably, Gloria’s recovery from a 1990 tour bus crash that fractured her spine -- “On Your Feet!” is ultimately an exuberant story of triumph set to a Teflon assemblage of proven hits. It’s a jukebox kind of musical that smoothly casts Estefan’s many hits, but more now than even when it opened during 2015 its profile of immigrants (Cuban refugees) succeeding -- “This is what an American looks like,” Emilio (Mauricio Martinez) grows at a record company executive -- gives the production a profound undercurrent beneath the froth.
At the start of “On Your Feet!” -- at the Fisher Theatre through May 13 -- we’re introduced to the young Gloria (Carmen Sanchez), already a musical prodigy sending tapes to her father in Vietnam. Events move quickly; As a teen the singer (Christie Prades) is writing songs while studying psychology and meets Emilio, who brings her into her Miami Latin Boys band and then pushes her to the front -- with the encouragement of her grandmother (Debra Cardona) and the staunch opposition of her mother (Karmine Alers). Events move quickly as the rechristened Miami Sound Machine becomes a hit in the Latin market and battles its record label to cross it over to the pop market -- including the ingenious marketing of “Dr. Beat” via dance clubs and “Conga” everywhere from Bar Mitzvahs to Shriners conventions.
The story is a good one, and well-known -- though some of the family issues, including Gloria’s father’s battle with MS and temporary estrangement from her mother, will surprise more casual fans. And there’s more than enough levity to balance the hubris.
But “On Your Feet!” is mostly about the song and dance, and that’s delivered with real bit and authenticity by a percussion-heavy 13-piece band, positioned on stage rather than in the pit, and by luminous performances throughout the cast.
Martinez makes a slick Emilio, chattering in speedy Spanglish and steering the ship with confidence but also a palpable hint of vulnerability; His vocal performances on “I See You Smile,” “I Never Got To Tell You” and “Don’t Wanna Lose You” are among the show’s best. Prades, meanwhile, captures Gloria’s cadence and resilience and more than adequately handles the heavy lifting of recreating Estefan’s array of hits, though “Coming Out of the Dark” feels unnecessarily truncated.
The rest of the cast is rock solid, especially on the many slick ensemble dance numbers that swirl across the stage with slick but exciting precision. A special shout-out is due to dance captain Skizzo Arnedillo, whose commanding presence sucks in the audience’s eyes, and to Jordon Vergara, a scene-stealer who’s one of two youths playing young Emilio, the Estefans’ son Nayib and Bar Mitzvah boy Jeremy.
As “On Your Feet!” finishes with a glittery full-cast “Mega Mix” reprise of hits, you will find yourself, yes, on your feet. That the rhythm IS gonna get you is inevitable -- and any resistance is futile.
If You Go:
• “On Your Feet!”
• Through May 13
• Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit.
• Tickets are $39-$107
• Call 313-872-1000 or visit broadwayindetroit.com.
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