On Your Feet Or In Your Seat

By Jillian Carter

On Your Feet, The Lied Center, Friday, January 27, 2023

Walking into On Your Feet at the Lied Center, the atmosphere was set for a concert, with haze over the seats, cut through by huge stage lights perfect for a big 80s or 90s performance. I was excited and ready to relive my childhood dreams of pop stardom. While I was on my feet for some of the numbers, I was also happy to cry in my seat from the moving story.

On Your Feet is the musical story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, their lives together, and her rise to being the first and still most successful Latin crossover artist in the world. Spanning her childhood in Miami through her fateful spinal injury in a tour bus accident in 1990 and subsequent comeback, the show has to cram a lot of story into a relatively short two and a half hours. Fans who are familiar with Gloria’s music with The Miami Sound Machine will enjoy hits and lesser known songs, and probably learn more of their story than they had known coming in. We are also treated to more of Emilio’s story, especially in some poignant scenes in the second act. However, like all good stories, the audience is left wanting to know more. 

Quite frankly, there could be a whole show about Gloria’s parents, José and Gloria Fajardo, who escaped Cuba after Gloria was forced by her father to turn down an offer by MGM Studios to voice Shirley Temple in the Spanish language market. After coming to America, José fought in the Vietnam War and was an undercover CIA black ops agent before his death from multiple sclerosis. Given the powerful performance from Francisca Tapia as the senior Gloria, I’d pay to watch more of her and the under-utilized Adriel Orlando Garcia as José.

But enough of the show we don’t get to see! On Your Feet is on trend with the newer use of projections for scenery and sets. In addition to traditional projections on the background scrim, two more projection screens were used for seamless transitions into and out of dozens of settings, leaving room for more dancing than set changing. The show’s choreography is filled with dance numbers and creative movement pieces that could have been at home in a contemporary dance revue. Two ensemble members in particular keep these moments from being stagnant, namely Kristen Tarragó, who is also the understudy for Gloria and her mother, and Arquímedes González, who is the understudy for Emilio and José. Based on their ensemble performances, they probably kill the main roles when they are called up from the bench. In addition, the record executive played by Augusto Guadardo is pure comic gold. There were a few technical difficulties, but it was opening night. 

Gaby Albo (Gloria Estefan) is the clear standout for vocals and acting, literally embodying the superstar from vocal tone to dance moves. It is fun to watch her transform from a shy and awkward performer to a global sensation. The story is most poignant when watching the impact of Emilio (Samuel Garnica) on her self-esteem, and her effect on his tough guy act. As they fall in love, the audience is rooting for them. Other touching moments come from the relationship between Gloria and her abuela, played to great comedic and emotional effect by Adela Romero. Gloria attributes her success to her grandmother, and we get to see how she pushed her to pursue her dreams against all odds.

The draw of the show is the big song and dance numbers, which really do feel like an arena concert. The curtain call, especially, leaves the audience with the energy that pervades Gloria Estefan’s music and with the optimism that with the right support we can all achieve our dreams. The thing about this show, though, is that the music is great, but the story is greater. The less flashy moments in the second act are more powerful and will last in the audience’s minds longer than Gloria’s hit singles. The message I was left with is this:

May we all have an Emilio and an abuela who help us reach our potential.

If you go: The production has one more performance: Saturday, January 28 at 7:30pm. Tickets can be purchased online at The Lied Center or at the box office.

Jillian Carter is a local playwright and director. Her play, Happy Birthday, Lily!, will premiere this June with OmniArts Nebraska at the Johnny Carson Theatre at the Lied. 

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