On Your Feet! – London Coliseum
Guest review by Tony Peters
One of the rules of staging a successful jukebox musical is, get to the songs. Whether you’re charting the history of the band (Jersey Boys) or shoehorning in a new story around the back catalogue (Mamma Mia!), always remember the punters have paid to hear the hits.
However, although this musical — which tells the story of Latin superstar Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio — certainly delivers when it comes to the vibrant staging of the infectious music, the rush to get to the songs results in a rather uneven telling of their (albeit interesting) story, with some of the “acting bits” seemingly having the energy sucked out of them by the sheer size of the London Coliseum where it plays until August before embarking on a UK tour.
Alexander Dinelaris’ functional book fair whizzes through Gloria’s early life; studying to be a psychologist but with a passionate love for music and writing and recording songs on cassettes that she sends to send to her father who is serving in Vietnam.
Photo Johan Persson
But in the shake of a maraca, Gloria is all grown up and being pushed into a music career by her doting grandmother (Karen Mann) which leads to a meeting with Emilio, leader of the Miami Latin Boys, who sees Gloria’s potential and takes her on board. All this against the will of her mother (Madalena Alberto) who we learn later had her own chance of a showbiz career thwarted.
Although things calm down a bit to take in the back story of Gloria’s family fleeing Cuba for Miami and her father falling ill with Multiple Sclerosis, these events are still dealt with in a perfunctory way, robbing the show of some much-needed depth and the opportunity for leads Christie Prades and George Ioannides to muster any real chemistry.
Despite this being a true story, some of the peripheral characters are very broadly drawn, in particular the hard-nosed record company execs. Although director Jerry Mitchell has been at this game long enough to know what buttons to press and Emilio’s speech “this is what the face of an American looks like” during a dispute over whether to sing in Spanish or English nearly brought the audience to its feet.
So, the shift from intimate domestic scenes to full-on, O2-worthy dance numbers is an awkward one, but they are worth waiting for and it’s the staging here that brings the show to exuberant life thanks to a smoking band under the direction of the Estefans’ long-serving musical director Clay Ostwald, Sergio Trujillo’s lively choreography and Christie Prades’ superb singing.
Photo Johan Persson
The second act has a bit more emotional intensity when the couple’s life is devastated by Gloria’s near-death experience in a coach crash, but this too only serves as a prelude to her emotional comeback at the American Music Awards and the inevitable audience-on-its-feet finale.
On Your Feet! isn’t perfect and isn’t up there with band bios like Jersey Boys or Sunny Afternoon but ultimately resistance is futile because the rhythm is gonna get you.