- Rita Egan
Theater Review: The rhythm is gonna get you at the John W. Engeman’s ‘On Your Feet!’
Before Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine filled the airwaves with their Latin-inspired pop music and heart-wrenching ballads. On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan is now playing at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, and local theatergoers can discover the Estefans’ story through Aug. 28.
The theater was nearly sold out on July 16, press opening night. The audience members were ready to be entertained and were not disappointed. Director Dana Iannuzzi and the Engeman cast skillfully share the inspiring tale of achieving the American Dream through infectious music and dynamic dance numbers.
The musical by Alexander Dinelaris takes place from 1975 to 1991 and highlights the early days of the Estefans’ climb to fame. It also incorporates a few flashbacks to even earlier periods. The show ran on Broadway from 2015 to 2017.
The day Emilio, of the Miami Latin Boys, visited the home of Gloria’s family was the moment that musical history began. The husband-and-wife team’s first encounter led to chart-topping hits such as “Rhythm is Gonna Get You,” “Conga,” “Get on Your Feet,” “Anything for You,” “Coming Out of the Dark,” and more. The songs are incorporated throughout the story, along with “If I Never Got to Tell You,” which was written for the musical. Each one is perfectly placed, whether it’s an upbeat number to mark a happy time in the couple’s life or a ballad to remember their adversities. The songs are not always sung by the Gloria character which puts a new spin on some well known tunes.
There are moments during the musical that will leave the audience teary-eyed as they are taken back in time to when young Gloria misses her father, who is fighting in Vietnam. A few years later, he is battling multiple sclerosis, and she helps care for him. There are also flashbacks to when Emilio’s and Gloria’s families escaped Cuba. The couple’s story would not be complete without including the bus crash in 1990, when Gloria was left with a broken back and unable to walk for months. She battled the fight of her life to get back on stage, which she did at the 1991 American Music Awards.
Alexis Semevolos-Velazquez is a stunning Gloria Estefan. She has mastered the singer’s alto voice range, where at times, one may feel as if they hear Estefan herself. Semevolos-Velazquez delivers on every number, especially during “Coming Out of the Dark.” The song marks the climax of the musical as Gloria takes to the stage at the AMAs. During the musical, the actress seamlessly goes from a sweet, young Gloria to a determined woman who will not let anything stand in her way.
Victor Souffrant is so convincing as the determined and focused Emilio Estefan that when he first sings during “I See Your Smile,” it’s hard to believe that the sweet, soothing vocals are coming from him, but they are. He sings beautifully with Semevolos-Velazquez and in Act 2 with Nicole Paloma Sarro, who plays Gloria’s mother, during the tearjerker “If I Never Got to Tell You.”
While the audience may want to dislike Sarro as Gloria Fajardo, the jealous mother who tries to keep her daughter from pursuing her musical dreams, one just can’t. She not only shines when she sings with Souffrant but also during “Mi Tierra” in the first act. Carol Beaugard, as Gloria’s grandmother Consuelo, and Gabriela Moscoso, who plays the singer’s sister Rebecca Fajardo, are both endearing. Moscoso sings backup on many of the songs and joins Semevolos-Velazquez on “Anything for You.” It’s evident her strong vocals are why she was chosen as Semevolos-Velazquez’s understudy, and she won’t miss a beat if she needs to step in as Gloria for a performance.
Ryan Morales plays Gloria’s father, Jose Fajardo, and it’s a delight to hear his bari-tenor singing voice during “When Someone Comes Into Your Life,” a duet with Semevolos-Velazquez. The song is bound to have many reaching for their tissues.
Sofia Jarmel is precious as young Gloria, and her singing voice stands out, even in a cast where she is one of the youngest. Luca Silva plays Nayib Estefan, a young Emilio and a couple of ensemble parts. The actor is adorable, and while he only has a few lines, his timing is perfect.
What else is perfectly done during On Your Feet! is the storyline covers the adversities in the Estefans’ lives without turning too somber. In addition to the infectious sounds of the Miami Sound Machine to keep audience members’ spirits lifted, there are some well-timed comedic lines. David De Almo, Phil the record label executive, especially had people laughing in their seats. The whole ensemble is a pleasure to watch.
Conductor Erika R. Gamez and the band nail the brass- and percussion-driven songs, while choreographer Sandalio Alvarez has crafted energetic, Latin-inspired dances. The costumes designed by Cecilia X. Gutierrez help to capture the various years depicted in the musical, and Gloria’s concert outfits are eye-catching.
Make sure to bring your tissues and dancing shoes because the Engeman’s production of the Estefans’ story will pull at your heartstrings and have you on your feet dancing before the night is over.
The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, presents “On Your Feet” through Aug. 28. Tickets are $80 on Saturday evenings and $75 all other performances. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com