Watching the musical "On Your Feet" onstage in Miami, currently playing as the opener of the Broadway Across Miami series at the Arsht Center, adds a whole other level of appeal than seeing it in another city.
Gloria Estefan's rise to fame with husband, Emilio, is truly a Miami story, and, with the catchy soundtrack of Miami Sound Machine songs made famous in the 1980s, "On Your Feet" is a jukebox musical. But it's so much more. While jukebox musicals can sometimes wrap a thin story around popular songs ("Jersey Boys" comes to mind, as do some others), "On Your Feet" captivates with a rags-to-riches, triumphant story of love and perseverance.
To coin a phrase from one of Gloria's hit songs, "the rhythm is gonna get you" no matter whether you're familiar with the Estefans' music or their story.
From the shy Gloria being coaxed by suitor Emilio to come to his rehearsal space and sing songs with his band, the Miami Latin Boys, after Gloria's No. 1 fan, her grandmother, gives her the push, to the second act, which takes a dramatic turn, the bio-musical of the most successful Latin crossover pop star in American music history can't help but win over fans.
Miami's royal family of pop music is known for being down to earth and approachable, and the musical story of the couple and their determination keeps that earnestness in check, which accounts for a big part of its appeal. By the end of two hours, Gloria and Emilio's life is an open book, from the struggles of a teenage girl dealing with a domineering mother and an ill father, to Emilio's heartbreak of leaving his own mother behind in Cuba as a young boy.
The adult Emilio, who we first meet fronting his own band, is portrayed in the musical as the hard-nosed business side of the multi-platinum recording artists, and at the center of the couple's rise to fame. Gloria is the undiscovered talent, who, when paired with Emilio, ditches her dreams of becoming a psychologist to pursue music and marriage.
The second act gets dramatic when Gloria's career and life is in limbo when the band's tour bus is hit on a snowy highway at the height of the group's mega stardom.
Miami native Christian Prades stars as Gloria in the national tour after understudying the role on Broadway. For those who saw Actors' Playhouse's "In the Heights" in 2013, a young Prades played Vanessa. Here, she doesn't only sing the heck out of the part, but takes audiences on the emotional ride of the pop star's life, given the extra jolt of truth to ensure the show doesn't get lost in one note.
As Emilio, Mexican telenovela start Mauricio Martinez has the most difficult character to portray. The part is written as a bit of a caricature and it is a struggle to see beyond that, but the chemistry between Prades and Martinez more than makes up for the shortfall.
As Gloria's father, Jason Martinez captures the essence of the young, military man Jose, and the love he has for his daughter. Alma Cuervo, reprises her role from the Broadway production, as Gloria's peppy abuela Conseulo, keeping up the comic relief. Nancy Ticotin as the tough-as-nails Gloria Fajardo brings down the house with her nightclub performance at Havana's famous nightclub Montmartre, which gives needed insight into why she's so jealous of her daughter's fame. The real Gloria Fajardo, who had her own stage ambitions, but had her dreams squashed by her father, passed away in June at the age of 88.
The soundtrack mixes original Miami Sound Machine hits with a few originals written specifically for the musical, including the beautiful "If I Never Got To Tell You," co-written by Gloria Estefan (lyrics), and her musician daughter, Emily (music).
This is the kick off of a national tour, which will stop in 30 other cities after leaving Miami. There's also an international premiere of the show opening Oct. 18 in The Netherlands. "On Your Feet" opened on Broadway in November 2015 and closed in August of 2017.
"On Your Feet" runs through Sunday, Oct. 15 at the Adrienne Arsht Cnter, 1300 Biscyane Blvd., Miami. Tickets $29 to $200. (305) 949-6722. www.arshcenter.org.