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stage review

‘On Your Feet!’: A fast-moving formula for fun

Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan in “On Your Feet!”.
Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan in “On Your Feet!”.Matthew Murphy

For an audience member at a musical, the experience of watching expertly choreographed, passionately performed dancing can be like undergoing a kind of hypnosis.

When you’re transfixed by those whirling torsos and flying feet, everything else tends to drain from your consciousness. So you’re less likely to feel churlish about the fact that, say, the musical’s script tends toward the formulaic or the show’s pacing feels uneven whenever the dancing stops.

It seldom stops for long in “On Your Feet!,’’ the flawed but disarmingly big-hearted and very enjoyable jukebox bio-musical about pop singer Gloria Estefan and her producer husband Emilio, directed by Broadway veteran Jerry Mitchell. The “Mamma Mia!’’-like exclamation point in the show’s title promises a good time, and it’s a promise on which “On Your Feet!’’ largely delivers at the Boston Opera House, with the aforementioned caveats.


Sergio Trujillo — who was also the creative force behind the astonishing tango musical “Arrabal,’’ presented last year at the American Repertory Theater — devised the propulsive choreography that is a primary engine of “On Your Feet!,’’ complete with elements of salsa, disco, and mambo. As executed by a topnotch ensemble, Trujillo’s expressive physical vocabulary — swiveled hips, splayed fingers, flexed arms, hand claps, leg kicks, shoulder lifts — matches the surging energy of the songs. In one number, the ensemble dances in wood-bottomed sandals, creating a percussive storm of sound. As for the sequin-spangled costumes by Emilio Sosa, they put on a show of their own.

Christie Prades, as Gloria, and Mauricio Martinez, as Emilio, make an appealing duo as “On Your Feet!’’ follows a narrative trajectory common to this kind of authorized showbiz chronicle, tracing Gloria’s rise to or near the top of the charts with hits like “Conga,’’ “Get On Your Feet,’’ “Anything For You,’’ “1-2-3,’’ and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You’’ (all of which are performed in the show). The sweeping popularity of “Conga’’ is wittily illustrated in a number that shows the song raising the roof at a bar mitzvah (featuring some precociously fancy footwork by young Carlos Carreras; remember that name), an Italian-American wedding, and a Shriners’ convention.


But we’re reminded, too, of the obstacles to mainstream success that the Estefans, both Cuban-American, faced early in their career, such as the record industry executive who sneeringly dismisses their crossover dreams, refusing to release their single in English. That leads to a “Hamilton’’-like moment in which Emilio, who is depicted as an immigrant entrepreneur of unstoppable drive, dresses down the executive: “I’m not sure where you think I live, but this is my home. And you should look very closely at my face, because whether you know it or not, this is what an American looks like.’’ The mic-drop rejoinder works because it fits organically into the narrative; at other points, though, Alexander Dinelaris’s script leans too heavily on audience-manipulating applause lines.

The family dynamics are not always harmonious in “On Your Feet!’’; Gloria is estranged for a time from her mother (forcefully played by Nancy Ticotin), whose own thwarted showbiz dreams are evoked in a flashback scene set in a Havana nightclub. Shaping Act 2 is the devastating 1990 tour bus accident in Pennsylvania that severely injured Gloria. That is followed by her painstaking recovery, culminating in her performance at the 1991 American Music Awards.


Although one ballad in particular is a heart-stopping beauty — “When Someone Comes Into Your Life,’’ superbly performed by Jason Martinez as Gloria’s father — the show detours a couple of times too often into balladry, which slows “On Your Feet!’’ down. The character of Gloria feels curiously underdeveloped; “On Your Feet!’’ is inclined to talk about her qualities of resilience and independence more than it shows them.

But I daresay that for most spectators such quibbles will surface far less often than the urge to shed your inhibitions and just follow the command contained in the show’s title.


Book by Alexander Dinelaris. Featuring music produced and recorded by Emilio and Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine. Directed by Jerry Mitchell. Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo. Presented by Broadway In Boston. At Boston Opera House, through April 29. Tickets from $44, 800-982-2787, www.broadwayinboston.com

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter@GlobeAucoin