The rhythm is going to get you! What we thought of Gloria Estefan musical On Your Feet at Sunderland Empire
Gloria Estefan does warn you that the rhythm is going to get you – and it certainly does in this toe-tappingly good tribute to her career.
Long before the likes of J-Lo, Shakira and Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan and her Cuban heels paved the way for Latin crossover artists at at time when she was told to stick to the Latin-American market.
Along with husband and producer Emilio Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, they took the rich musical rhythms of their Cuban homeland and fused them with the dance beats of Miami to create songs that defined the late ‘80s and ‘90s, such as Rhythm is Gonna Get You, Conga, Get On Your Feet, Don’t Want To Lose You and 1,2,3.
Although I’ve danced to many a Gloria Estefan song at school discos back in the day, I knew little about Gloria and Emilio’s back story.
With a score as good as this it would be easy to roll out a jukebox musical with a flimsy narrative stringing the songs together, but Jerry Mitchell’s On Your Feet is a well-told story, rich in depth, of people who fled the Castro regime and ended up living the American Dream while uniting cultures through music – and selling more than 100 million records along the way.
Philippa Stefani is wonderfully endearing as Gloria as we see her evolve from a shy, but talented, teenager into a superstar. Meanwhile, George Ioannides is truly charming as the ambitious Emilio who leads the Latin Crossover charge whilst bearing the scars of the effects of the Cuban Revolution.
Unlike most tumultuous musical relationships, the love between Emilio and Gloria is unwavering. Instead, it’s the world around them which causes the drama in their lives and there’s something refreshing about watching their support for each other amidst the knockbacks from record producers, family disapproval and the serious bus crash which left Gloria’s life hanging in the balance.
Madalena Alberto (who last appeared on the Empire stage as Evita) is also a commanding presence as Gloria’s mum Gloria Fajardo. It’s a shame she only has one song, Mi Tierra, as her voice really soars.
Of course, the music is also a star of the show in this musical and the hits come thick and fast, right from the opening number of Rhythm is Gonna Get You, which had me tapping my toes before the curtain had even finished rising, to the rousing finale and the most rhythmic standing ovation I’ve seen at the Empire.
Choreography by Sergio Trujillo is slick and full of fiery Latin passion that moves along at an incredible pace and makes you feel like you’re in a pop concert one minute and in the audience of Strictly Come Dancing the next.
Great too to see the live band out of the pit and centre stage as they ramp up the energy even more. They’re not the only ones having fun: by the end of it you’ll be on your feet and shaking your maracas for all their worth too.
*On Your Feet: The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan is at Sunderland Empire until Saturday, October 5. Tickets available in person at the Box Office on High Street West, also from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 3022 or online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland