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On Your Feet! review at London Coliseum – ‘irresistible Gloria Estefan musical’

George Ioannides, Christie Prades and the company in On Your Feet! at London Coliseum. Photo: Johan Persson
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With 26 Grammys under their belts, 115 million records sold – as well as credit for having created a new form of music that combined dance with a Latin soul – husband and wife powerhouses Gloria and Emilio Estefan are legendary.

Kinky Boots director Jerry Mitchell and book writer Alexander Dinelaris do a very decent job with this bio-musical, charting the Estefans’ lives – from fleeing Castro’s Cuba to settling in Miami to achieving international stardom.

But there’s something a bit skewed about the pacing of Dinelaris’ book. The first act only really skims the surface of the adversity Gloria faced as a girl and young woman, skipping quickly over the upheaval of leaving Cuba and touching lightly on her caring responsibilities for her sick father.

The focus instead is on a less interesting aspect of their lives. Gloria and Emilio want to be successful, but face promoters and DJs who aren’t sure about their hybrid music. To his credit, Dinelaris (who won an Oscar for his screenplay of Birdman) really evokes the analogue romance of trying to create a hit crossover single when physical formats were themselves crossing over, from vinyl to cassette. Physically handing 48s over to club DJs, artificially engineering airplay by getting people to call into the station: it really brings that era to life. The second act deals with Gloria’s tour bus crash and her subsequent recovery.

As hagiographic and unchallenging as it is, it’s ultimately pretty irresistible. There’s something so pure and lovely about seeing a relationship full of love on stage, especially when it’s backed up by the unerringly upbeat music.

Christie Prades and George Ioannides in On Your Feet! at London Coliseum. Photo: Johan Persson

Christie Prades makes that full-on positivity really work: she’s a scintillating presence as Gloria, with a wonderful voice, and there’s palpable chemistry between her and George Ioannides’ Emilio, even if his voice is a little less strong. Madalena Alberto is an extra bonus in the cast as Gloria’s austere mother. Alberto gets a big solo and a big duet, which show her thrillingly at full power.

David Rockwell’s design lets the side down, consisting of sliding flats and little platforms with various items of furniture that whizz in and out of the wings. Compared to the slickness of the rest of the show, it comes across as unimaginative and a bit clunky.

Kenneth Posner’s lighting, on the other hand, really works, flitting from the hot Cuban sunshine to colourful arena pop concert. The band, under Clay Ostwald, is also great; the sound is flawless, so full of Cuban beats and cheeky staccato brass that it sounds like it’s been produced in a studio, brilliantly recreating the Miami Sound Machine vibe, even though it’s all happening live. Finally there’s Sergio Trujillo’s masterful choreography, which is so full of vitality that it will elicit air maracas from even the most dance-averse.

Gloria and Emilio’s story is a fascinating tale of the American dream, and the immigrant dream, and of how closely those are linked, brought to life with love and colour and their wonderful music.

Gloria Estefan: ‘You make your own luck and you have to continue your dream’

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Irresistible, if surface-skimming, show telling the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan and their music