by: Sandi Durell
Cuban-American music star Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio are the topic of this big dance jukebox musical extravaganza that not only has you dancing in your seat but in the aisles and on your feet moving to the Latin rhythms that became part of American and world culture. It’s both a love story of a rise to fame and great fortune, along with the humility and humanity that levels the playing field.
The orchestra, on a moveable stage (conducted by Lon Hoyt), bring the Miami Sound Machine up close and personal as flashbacks to Havana and Miami highlight little Gloria (a talented package Alexandra Suarez) and her family, the Fajardos, as they flee Cuba escaping the revolution, landing in Miami where her father Jose (a strong voiced Eliseo Roman) joins the military and goes off to fight in Vietnam. He becomes ill with MS upon his return and is bedridden until he dies. In the household is Abuelo Consuelo (Alma Cuervo, a hip granny with a sparkle and understanding), who helps push and buttress so her granddaughter Gloria (a sizzling Ana Villafañe – making her Broadway debut on her way to stardom) can move ahead with her musical pursuits while in school (where she earned a BA in psychology). Gloria needed Abuelo to run defense against mama (an exhilarating Andrea Burns), frustrated as a youngster unable to pursue her dreams on stage, who keeps a rigid, tight hold on her family and especially on Gloria creating a petulant relationship. Gloria also takes her younger sister Rebecca (Genny Lis Padilla) along on this musical journey to stardom.
When Gloria meets Emilio (Josh Segarra) and is given a chance to sing and play her songs for him, there is an instant romantic connection. Emilio is the brains, the marketer, the business head and orchestrator of what is to become a musical empire as we watch their upward climb and crossover between Cuban and American Pop featuring some of the many top Estefan songs – “ Dr. Beat,” “Conga,” “123,” “Turn the Beat Around,” “Here We Are,” “Anything For You,” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” – as Emilio pushes Gloria to the limit, taking on the American music industry when, in 1990, all is interrupted by the terrible bus crash that almost permanently disabled Gloria. After fusion spine surgery and many months of therapy, she is able to walk and resume her career; Emilio walking away from the crash with some scratches and their son Nayib (adorable little dance machine Eduardo Hernandez) escaping injuries.
The hot Latin/Pop rhythms, choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, are outstanding, albeit somewhat repetitious; the dancers a wild array of moves and grooves in colorful sparkly costumes (ESosa) in David Rockwell’s well designed sets, lit by Kenneth Posner. With a book by Alexander Dinelaris and direction by Jerry Mitchell, the beat and story make for a real impact.
Ms. Villafañe exhibits great fortitude along with a lovely vocal range, sometimes her inflections sounding like Gloria Estefan herself, while the soft spoken, low key Mr. Segarra is sexy-charming but doesn’t quite match up in intensity. Shining throughout is Andrea Burns.
All in all, this hi-energy production will get you on your feet because the rhythm is gonna get you!
Photos: Matthew Murphy
Marquis Theatre, Broadway/46 Street – 2 ½ hours with intermission