“This is a huge project,” says Hugo Medrano, producing artistic director of GALA, of the Spanish adaptation of On Your Feet! La Historia de Emilio y Gloria Estefan: En Español!, the high-profile Broadway jukebox musical about Gloria and Emilio Estefan.
The show follows in the same footsteps as GALA’s Spanish-language adaptation of In The Heights. That production, directed and choreographed by Luis Salgado, who returns for On Your Feet, became a massive hit for the company, sweeping the 2018 Helen Hayes Awards, including wins for Outstanding Production, Ensemble, Direction, and Choreography.
For Salgado, who had been part of In The Heights’ original Broadway cast a decade earlier, the recognition helped put GALA “on the map as a fresh space” for non-Spanish-speaking theatergoers in the region.
Performed with English-language surtitles, In The Heights “was a bilingual production that was popular and known,” says the New York-based Salgado. “Everybody was there, creating community through theater.”
Immediately before coming to D.C. to adapt In The Heights, Salgado was immersed with On Your Feet, but in a different manner. He had just ended a years-long run as a cast member in the show, dating back to its 2015 pre-Broadway tryout in Chicago.
He subsequently returned to On Your Feet, assisting the show’s original director Jerry Mitchell with the first international production, a Dutch-language version in the Netherlands.
“Nothing compares to being able to now direct the show in Spanish,” he says. “And to really have what I call the United Nations of Latinx representation at GALA…. I just feel so honored that this show, this story of On Your Feet, gets to not only be told, but empowers, and even lights, the future. It validates the reality of all these [LatinX] performers who are working again at GALA after two years of COVID.”
As for how much his adaptation deviates from the original, both of which feature a book by Alexander Dinelaris, Salgado says, “it’s very different. It starts with the language.”
For one thing, Gloria Estefan has translated “some of the songs that were created originally just for Broadway, that were not published music from her repertoire.”
Take the song “If I Never Got To Tell You,” which “is a very beautiful moment between Emilio and [Gloria’s] mother. That’s one of the songs that Gloria translated now for this show. And she’s so, so proud of it.” You can almost hear Salgado pinching himself when he acknowledges he’s in regular back-and-forth communication with Gloria. “What an honor to have that opportunity,” he says.
Another distinction Salgado makes between the English and Spanish versions is the fact that “hearing some of the songs in a different language has a different catharsis.”
As an example, the 1996 ballad “Reach” has been swapped out for “Puedes Llegar.” Although fundamentally the same song, a Spanish version was recorded with nine other Spanish-speaking superstars backing Estefan, and would go on to become a ubiquitous “We Are The World”-kind of anthem throughout the Caribbean in the mid-’90s.
“Reach” got a great reaction from the Broadway audiences, but Salgado predicts “Puedes Llegar” will reach new heights “because it emotionally resonates very differently.”
Salgado has made significant alterations to the original, Tony-nominated choreography by Sergio Trujillo, whom he calls “one of my biggest mentors in life.”
With Trujillo’s blessing, he has “come up with completely new choreography for 90 percent of the show.” The reason is simple: The GALA space is far more intimate than a Broadway house, with less than 300 seats compared to 1,300.
“This production is the dream come true of a couple of Latinx artists who tried to conquer Miami and the world of music in the United States in the ’80s and ’90s,” Medrano says. “[It’s] important because it gives our community a sense of belonging to a major community of artists in the United States.
“The Estefans are the epitome of hard work, of doing what you love,” adds Salgado. “They exemplify what an American looks like. And they give us permission to be proud of what we look like and our accents and our struggles, and take that forward without apologizing.”
On Your Feet! La Historia de Emilio y Gloria Estefan will be performed in Spanish with English surtitles starting Thursday, May 5, with the official Noche de GALA opening on Saturday, May 7. Through June 5 at GALA, 3333 14th St. NW. Tickets are $35 to $65, or $95 for Noche de GALA. Call 202-234-7174 or visit www.galatheatre.org.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!