Metro Weekly

D.C. Stage Review: ‘On Your Feet!’ At GALA Hispanic Theatre

The talented cast of "On Your Feet! En español" will have you singing along, and overlooking the show's weaknesses.

On Your Feet!: Fran Tapia (center) — Photo: Daniel Martinez / GALA Hispanic Theatre

Whether you approach On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan (★★★☆☆) as the inspiring immigrant journey of one of America’s true power couples, or merely enjoy it as a jukebox musical celebration of beloved entertainers, the rhythm is gonna get you.

First, the hard-working cast of GALA Hispanic Theatre’s world-premiere Spanish-language production sings, acts, and dances their culos off, many of them in multiple roles.

And the Estefans’ and Miami Sound Machine songs, some including newly penned Spanish lyrics by Gloria, are as catchy as ever, hits so embedded in pop culture that you know them all without knowing you knew them all.

In its first act, the show, directed and choreographed by Luis Salgado, focuses on evoking the texture and background of Gloria’s and Emilio’s early lives in Cuba, then Miami.

The Latin-flavored pop and love songs of Miami Sound Machine, along with music from Gloria’s Grammy-winning album ode to her homeland, Mi Tierra, speak vibrantly for the characters’ heartaches and ambitions.

Act two, chronicling the rise to superstardom, and the devastating bus accident that nearly left Gloria paralyzed, is where On Your Feet! slides more into just slinging the songbook with medleys and mixes. The book, by Alexander Dinelaris and translated to español by Esmeralda Azkarate-Gaztelu, seems to race through events to fit in more Miami Sound Machine.

Texture and detail feel lacking here, and in Clifton Chadick’s scenic design, consisting largely of images of locales projected onto curved backdrops. Christopher Annas-Lee’s lighting design often floods the stage, though on a few occasions creates rich atmosphere through its elegant restraint.

Consistency is best exemplified by music director Walter “Bobby” McCoy’s hip-shaking, shoulder-shimmying arrangements, and the hot live orchestra. Perhaps given how widely dispersed the musicians and performers are around the stage, the chorus wasn’t nailing the synchronicity of cues and harmonies on press night. But the band always sounded great.

Gaby Albo, as both teenage and adult Gloria, sings beautifully, even if she doesn’t sound a lick like Gloria Estefan. Her showtune pipes don’t capture La Gloria’s signature blend of pop precision and Cuban soul, but the performance succeeds in conveying many other facets of the singer.

Gloria and Emilio’s story has long been sold as the triumph of her talent and charisma combined with his production and industry savvy. But On Your Feet! states a strong case for Gloria’s smarts and Emilio’s charm, both of which come through in Albo’s headstrong Gloria, and Samuel Garnica’s appealing Emilio.

Garnica and Fran Tapia, portraying Gloria’s mother, a former singer also named Gloria, deliver a lovely duet on “Si Jamás Te Había Confiado (If I Never Got to Tell You),” the one tune composed expressly for On Your Feet! by Gloria and daughter Emily Estefan.

The show astutely addresses the lifetime of hopes and resentments underlying Gloria’s relationship with her mother, while also depicting the emotional contrasts between Tapia’s bitter Mama Gloria and her mother Consuelo, embodied tenderly by Madelin Marchant.

And Tapia registers another musical highlight leading a Havana nightclub performance of Estefan’s anthem “Mi Tierra.” The dancing in that number, based on Sergio Trujillo’s Tony-nominated choreography for the original Broadway production, and in the “Turn the Beat Around” megamix is as vibrant and exciting as it gets.

The costumes and choreography can veer into Solid Gold cheesiness, but the energy is undeniable, especially when the show deploys its two cute kid performers, which it does shamelessly. Winsley De Jesús, as Little Emilio, and Kamila Rodríguez, as Little Gloria, are such dazzling little salseros, who can resist them? Just feel the rhythm, don’t fight it, and shake your body to that conga beat.

On Your Feet! runs through June 5 at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW.

Performances are in Spanish with English subtitles. Tickets are $35 to $65.

Call 202-234-7174 or visit

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