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Theater Review: “On Your Feet"

“On Your Feet” plays through August 5, 2018, at San Diego Civic Theatre, 3rd and B Streets, downtown.
Photo credit:
Matthew Murphy

I dare you to sit still while watching “On Your Feet,” a jukebox musical with a Latin beat, playing through Sunday at San Diego Civic Theatre. 

This lively, jaunty musical depicts the joys and struggles – but mostly the love of music and dance – of Gloria Estefan’s journey from Cuba to international megastar.

For those (like me) who didn’t know, Gloria came to the U.S. from Cuba as a child, settling in Little Havana with her father and mother (also named Gloria), who had been denied a showbiz career by her father.

The show opens with a loud and vibrant 10-piece salsa band proclaiming that “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You.” It does make you want to get up and dance, except that the cast is there to do it (wonderfully) for you. Sergio Trujillo’s kick-happy choreography and dancers who know how to put it across pervade the whole show.

Gloria (Christie Prades) loves to sing, but never wanted to be a star. She is studying psychology when her feisty grandmother Consuelo (Debra Cardona), also a performer, pushes her to audition for a band she knew in Miami. There she meets Emilio Estefan (Mauricio Martínez), and the rest is history.

They do extraordinarily well in the Latin market, but at one point Emilio wants to diversify by recording something in English. A recording exec insists that “it won’t make any money,” and won’t back it.

“This,” Emilio insists, “is what America looks like.”

Later, when Gloria writes another song (“Conga”) in English, the recording exec won’t even listen to it until Gloria performs it for a Shriners’ convention.

But Emilio gets back. At one point they are negotiating a new contract, and Emilio holds out for $50 million, more than Madonna. “How do you sit down,” asks the executive wonderingly, “with balls that size?”

Kudos to director Jerry Mitchell, set designer David Rockwell and especially projections designer Darrel Maloney for the often-moving, ever-changing look of the show. Kenneth Posner’s fine lighting is also worthy of mention.

This is a terrific cast, with no weak links. Martinez is excellent as Emilio, Prades spectacular as Gloria.

Nancy Ticotin’s Mama Gloria and Debra Cardona’s Grandma Consuelo add the right familial touches.

But my favorite cast member is young Jordan Vergara, an adorable dynamo who can belt a song and out-dance everybody else on the stage. It’s a double-cast role in which each actor plays three characters a night.

Music director Clay Ostwald’s orchestra is just right and instrumental (pardon the pun) to the success of this show.

If you’re ready to hear some great Latin sounds, get down to the Civic for “On Your Feet.”

The details

“On Your Feet” plays through August 5, 2018, at San Diego Civic Theatre, 3rd and B Streets, downtown.

Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6 pm

Tickets: (619) 570-1100 or broadwaysd.com