On Your Feet! @ Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Gloria Estefan musical On Your Feet! is a joyous and explosive concoction of music and dance

Review by Elaine Reid | 11 Oct 2019
  • On Your Feet! @ Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

The Tony Award-nominated On Your Feet!, written by Alexander Dinelaris and directed by Jerry Mitchell, tells the story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan in an explosive, colourful concoction of music and dance. 

The infectious beat of the 1987 hit Rhythm is Gonna Get You opens the performance and pulses through the air, beckoning the audience into the whirlwind story of the Estefans’ phenomenal rise to international stardom. With a talented live onstage band led by musical director Danny Belton, the contagious power of the music injects gusto into the story, and leaves the audience shimmying in their seats.

We follow Gloria, played by the talented and charismatic Philippa Stefani, from her family roots in Cuba as she charts a path from psychology student to starlet. A reluctant performer with a hidden talent and passion for writing songs, Gloria is given a nudge to perform by her grandmother, Consuelo (tonight played by Laura Friedrich Tejero), through an introduction to Emilio Estefan (played by both George Ioannides and Sharif Afifi). With Emilio’s encouragement, she auditions successfully for the Miami Latin Boys, who later become the Miami Sound Machine.

Continually rejected by music industry bigwigs for being “too Latin” to cross over, the Estefans refuse to lose heart and take the band’s music directly to the people. Encouraging DJs to play their songs in clubs, the band begin performing their music everywhere from weddings to bar mitzvahs. Gradually, their tenacity bears fruit, and Conga becomes a worldwide hit.

On stage, the talented ensemble are hypnotic with their fluid hip sways, kicks, spins and twirls, beautifully choreographed by Sergio Trujillo. The set changes are smooth – walls, tables and beds move swiftly in and out on rollers, and lighting is used effectively to transport the audience from a romantic 4th of July firework display to the glamour of the American Music Awards. 

At times, elements of the story – such as Gloria’s family’s struggle to support her ailing father, the way Gloria is disowned by her mother for years, and the sudden appearance of the Estefans’ son on their tour – feel somewhat shoe-horned into the tale as time hops forward. Overall though, the passion and boundless energy of the gifted cast combined with booming, infectious hits from 1-2-3 to Get On Your Feet, leave the audience feeling suitably inspired and upbeat.

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 12 Oct