Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 22, 2018

REVIEW: The Bushnell, On Your Feet

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through June 24, 2018
by Janice Hanson

Photo by Matthew Murphy
“On Your Feet” explodes with music and lighting effects. The show is pure entertainment with a uniformly strong cast of actors, singers, dancers and a band that includes five members of the Miami Sound Machine—the band started by Emilio Estefan in 1975. On the surface, the story is about how Emilio Estefan met Gloria Fajardo, whom he later married, and how the duo became pivotal in introducing the Latin sound to the world. The plot is bland, but with the hot salsa and Cuban music and dance, it really doesn’t matter.

There are sub-themes in the story, such as the importance of family and the tension of Gloria’s relationship with her mother and grandmother, but this is no feminist story. There’s also a theme of the marginalization of music that the “tastemakers” deem as not of interest to mainstream Americans. When Emilio points to himself and says “This is what an American looks like,” the audience cheered.
The sub-title is “The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical” and there is no doubt as to who, in the relationship, comes first. This is almost more of Emilio’s story than Gloria’s, and though they are portrayed as a couple connected by love, the marriage appears to be of unequal equals.

The charismatic leads are Christie Prades (Gloria) and Mauricio Martinez (Emilio) who have outstanding voices and create ethereal harmonies. Doreen Montalvo (Gloria’s mother) is a spitfire and Debra Cardona (Abuela) provides familial love and a fair share of comedy. Added to the outstanding ensemble of singers/dancers, are young performers portraying child Gloria and young Emilio (Gloria and Emilio’s son). The night I saw the show, young Jordan Vergara, whom the playbill lists as having been a salsa dancer since he was 4 years old, stole the scenes in which he was the dancing bar-mitzvah boy—a reference to how the band played any gig they could get in order to get their music heard.

While the story is not particularly original, the music had members of the audience “on their feet” as well. This is a joyous show with heart and energy. It’s a great way to start the summer with a Latin beat and music so hot it sizzles.