Theatre Review: ON YOUR FEET – Palace Theatre, Manchester

Philippa Stefani as Gloria Estefan and Company of ON YOUR FEET

Philippa Stefani as Gloria Estefan and Company of ON YOUR FEET. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

What ON YOUR FEET lacks in drama, it more than makes up for with its music

3.5 out of 5 stars

You may not know the story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan but you’ll certainly know their sound. Throughout the 80s and 90s, Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine topped the charts with their unique Latin-dance vibe, selling an estimated 115 million records worldwide and bagging three Grammy awards on the way. Yet alongside success also came tragedy as new musical ON YOUR FEET demonstrates.

Charting their journey from its origins in Cuba, onto the streets of Miami and finally to international superstardom, ON YOUR FEET tells the inspiring true love story of Emilio and Gloria. This stirring immigrant-to-riches tale – which saw Gloria defy record industry prejudice and potential paralysis to become the ‘Queen of Latin Pop’ – really makes the most of the band’s back catalogue, brilliantly recreating the Miami Sound Machine vibe and the effect they had across the world.

Philippa Stefani as Gloria Estefan and Company of ON YOUR FEET

Philippa Stefani as Gloria Estefan and Company of ON YOUR FEET. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

For the most part, KINKY BOOTS director Jerry Mitchell and book writer Alexander Dinelaris do a decent job with this bio-musical. At its best, this is a show about immigration, the after-effects of the Cuban revolution and the American dream. Yet, there is little real conflict here to make it a high stakes drama. Don’t get me wrong, ON YOUR FEET makes for an interesting watch but never really hits the highs – or the lows – that you really want it to.

The main issue with the show lies in its pacing. The first act rushes through Gloria’s early life, skimming over key life events like the birth of their son and the death of beloved father and grandmother, both of whom played a massive part in her journey to success. The focus instead is placed on Gloria’s tour bus crash, the whole of the second act dealing with this one event and her subsequent drive to recovery.

David Rockwell’s set design also lets the side down somewhat, the sliding flats and various items of furniture which whizz in and out of the wings, feeling a little clunky compared to the slickness of the rest of the show.

Philippa Stefani as Gloria Estefan and Company of ON YOUR FEET

Philippa Stefani as Gloria Estefan and Company of ON YOUR FEET. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Yet, what the show lacks in drama, it more than makes up for in its music. The on-stage band, under the watchful eye of Musical Supervisor Clay Ostwald, sound absolutely fantastic, delivering smash hits like RHYTHM IS GONNA GET YOU, CONGA, GET ON YOUR FEET, DON’T WANT TO LOSE YOU NOW, DR. BEAT and 1-2-3, with real passion and power.

The cast is equally excellent, Philippa Stefani, in particular, capturing Gloria Estefan’s wonderful voice, as well as her vulnerability, heart and steel. There’s believable chemistry between her and George Ioannides, who conveys Emilio’s drive with conviction. Karen Mann as Gloria’s wise-cracking Latina grandma and Madalena Alberto as her austere mother, also impress, Alberto’s solo in act one standing out as a highlight.

While ON YOUR FEET certainly isn’t flawless, it’s impossible not to become invested in the Estefan’s story, or indeed, their music. The rhythm really does get you here, the whole of the audience on their feet for the medley in the finale. Who can resist a little Latin heat on a cold Autumnal night? Certainly not me.

ON YOUR FEET runs at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until 2 November 2019.