ON YOUR FEET! The story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan! In Spanish ! at the Hispanic Gala Theater

Gaby Albo at the center and company of the Gala Hispanic Theater production of
On your feet! The story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan! In Spanish !
Photo by Stan Weinstein.

On your feet! celebrates Cuban-American pride and the need to celebrate life through good times and difficult times. This fascinating real-life story of Gloria Estefan and Emilio Estefan is full of bite, vigor and vibrant energy to touch the soul and the heart. A multicultural cast lends their voices and hearts to portray what it means to be the face of America and strive for the American Dream.

the GALA Hispanic Theater gave the DC metro area a professional and elegant Spanish version of this popular Broadway hit. This production is presented in Spanish with English surtitles, and it moves with the intensity of a prowling lion and surprises you with catchy music, overworked choreography and poignant and sensitive dramatic scenes.

Alexander Dinelaris Jr.’s book is very solidly written and this musical of Cuban pop hit music and the lives of Emilio and Gloria Estefan is so much more than a musical jukebox. Every song from “Conga” to “The Rhythm is Gonna Get You” is seamlessly integrated into the storyline. (The translation of the book is by Esmeralda Azkarate-Gaztelu and there are new Spanish lyrics by Gloria Estefan).

Directing and choreography by Luis Salgado and Valeria Cossu showcased the fascinating source material of the Estefan and Fajardo family, giving the more intimate scenes as much weight as the dance numbers. A gentle, caring spirit hovers over this entire enterprise, even in the most emotional and intense scenes, and it’s refreshing to see that quality in a musical.

The scenes of little Gloria (played charmingly by Kamila Rodríquez) intertwined with adult Gloria (a stellar and captivating Gaby Albo) and were psychologically resonant and moving. The book never portrays the older generation as stereotypes like so many current books do—they are characters in their own right.

The central performances of Gaby Albo in Gloria and Samuel Garnica in Emilio are both complex and nuanced in their interpretation. Ms. Albo is a dynamic powerhouse when leading vocals in large ensembles and when singing romantically with Mr. Garnica. Ms. Albo also conveys a touching vulnerability when needed. Ms. Albo played with ease the rapid transitions from a devoted young woman of the family to an independent and confident performer.

Mr. Garnica has a soaring voice that “knocks him out of the park” in “Si Voy A Perderte.” He also has an authoritative natural charm that works well here.

The interactions of Gloria’s mother (a steely and shrewd performance by Fran Tapia) and Gloria’s grandmother, Consuelo (Madelin Marchant) with Gloria are gems of familial love and contradictions. Ms. Marchant and Ms. Tapia portray the tough love that mothers pass on to foster courage in their children. The scene where Mrs. Tapia implores her child to keep fighting (when she is struck by tragedy) is unforgettable in its emotional power.

The concept of seeing Gloria’s sick father, José Fajardo (a charismatic performance by José Fernando Capellán) come to life and sing to her about accepting her new love is extremely moving and almost spiritual (“When Someone Comes Into Your Life”).

Mr. Salgado’s choreography is sizzling, stylized and technically proficient throughout the production. A huge ensemble of formidable dancers exploded onto the stage space and these dancers danced up a storm with verve and electric energy.

To add to the immersive feel of the production, dancers often danced in front of the stage and in the aisles.

Choreographic highlights (some numbers were inspired by Sergio Trujillo’s original work and choreography) include “Tradiciόn” in which Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood is featured as the place where respect for family and tradition is shown with exuberant dances and colorful sunny tropical colors in attire (the costume designer is Jeannette Christensen).

In the gloriously exuberant and choreographed “Conga,” disparate celebrations are universally celebrated as one—like a Bar Mitzvah, an Italian wedding, and a Shriner convention are merged into a single knockout blow.

The section of the international tour number entitled “Cuba Libre” is a scintillating and powerful choreographic display of non-stop energy and intensity—the dancers seem to be operating from a secret power source as the energy is tireless (again, the vibrant costumes — this time, a lush red — are by Jeannette Christensen).

Walter “Bobby” McCoy’s musical direction is top-notch, and he wonderfully managed and led a ten-piece band. The group is ingeniously perched behind a scrim or screen at the upper level of the rear background wall and illuminated at certain transition points in the production.

The thrilling, rhythmic music of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine is a rich and nearly endless catalog of songs from many well-known popular hits as well as many new songs that I was excited to discover. Tender ballads, duets and great ensemble numbers come to life in this beautifully resonant and vocally thrilling production. (Sound Design by Matthew Rowe)

Christopher Annas-Lee’s lighting is appropriately pulsed and flashy in the piquant ensemble numbers and more subtle and evocative in the more intimate scenes.

Scenic Design by Clifton Chadick was a marvel of creativity. Sliding interchangeable panels were used for specific scenes, palm trees in the background and a recessed opening door on the back wall of the stage were all aspects of Mr. Chadick’s creativity. Patrick W. Lord’s enriching video projections/designs are also to be cited for their theatrical effect.

The show’s ending numbers sparked affirmations of everything that came before, and I felt like I got to know this incredible musical family personally. Little Gloria and Little Emilio (Winsley DeJesús) linked arms and danced to wild applause. The bows were intertwined to sustained applause and I would recommend a more formal curtain call—this company of professionals deserved it!

“The Rhythm is Gonna Get You” in this breathtaking musical celebration of pride, family, perseverance and success against all odds! Emilio and Gloria Estefan’s effort is relevant and applicable to anyone who has had the aspiration and dream of succeeding.

Duration: 2 hours and 10 minutes with a 20 minute intermission

On your feet! The story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan! In Spanish ! premiered May 6, 2022 at 8 p.m. at the GALA Hispanic Theater located at 3333 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC. Performances are until June 5, 2022. For tickets, click here or phone: 202-234-7174.

Evelyn C. Tobin