“On Your Feet!” — which is both an autobiography and a jukebox musical — comes to Seattle's Paramount Theatre Oct. 23-28.
You have heard the music of Gloria Estefan. You have danced to it, sung along to it and probably even worked out to it. And now you can immerse yourself in it completely, because this October, just as the weather turns gloomy in Seattle, the Paramount Theatre will briefly become a joyous bubble of bouncy conga drums, brassy horns and florid hip gyrations as “On Your Feet!” — a musical about the lives and music of Gloria and Emilio Estefan — comes to town.
“On Your Feet!” — which is both an autobiography and a jukebox musical, premiered in 2015 — was a hit on Broadway and went on to packed houses in Europe. The version coming to Seattle is the national tour, playing for a limited run from Oct. 23-28. This is no watered-down shadow of the Broadway version: Emilio is played by Ektor Rivera, who made a meal of the role on Broadway, and Gloria will be evoked by Christie Prades, the Broadway understudy. Fans of Broadway will recognize their production dream team of Tony Award-winning director Jerry Mitchell (“Kinky Boots”), choreographer and hip-wrangler Sergio Trujillo (“Donna Summer: The Musical”) and writer Alexander Dinelaris (“Birdman”). Fans of the Estefans’ longtime band, Miami Sound Machine, will be elated to hear that the show features original members playing the music live.
“Gloria has always been very loyal to her musicians — we’ve been playing together for almost 40 years,” said Emilio Estefan. “Our music is very syncopated, and you have to be a really good percussionist. The feel is still like Miami Sound Machine … the music sounds like the songs you hear on the albums.”
There is a strong legacy attached to the Estefans — that the world spent all of last summer fervently “Despacito”-ing across the dance floor is in large part due to the ground they broke one surprise hit at a time. The beats of Miami Sound Machine were the soundtrack to the moment that was ’80s Miami, the sun and sand and pushed-up blazer sleeves crystallized into music, their infectiously jubilant sound inviting people to put down their Tab and just get up and dance. It would also be fair to say that the Estefans created the blueprint for the distinctively Latin pop that now erupts like champagne bubbles out of New York and Miami: a fusion of Afro-Cuban dance rhythms — like the salsa and the son — and ’80s electronic club beats that helped make Cuban (and Latin) dance music truly mainstream in America for the first time since Desi Arnaz.
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“On Your Feet!” is part love story (and Emilio and Gloria are still married after 40 years, so you can buy into the — spoiler alert — happy ending) and part immigrant story. It chronicles personal challenges, like Gloria Estefan’s comeback from the fractured spine she suffered during a 1990 tour-bus accident (giving extra meaning to the title “On Your Feet!”) as well as the tribulations the Estefans faced trying to get their music into the national consciousness.
Today it seems like sheer madness that any record executive would hear their now-iconic song “Conga” and turn it away, but according to Emilio Estefan (and as portrayed in the musical), that was the story for years.
“This is a story of the American Dream,” said Estefan. “There was a lot of discrimination. We used to go to Sony and they told us we had to change our last name, or take the conga [drums] out, or take the horns out, but I felt like that was lying to people.”
Estefan also got to live another American dream: getting to have a say in who would play him in the (somewhat) fictionalized version of his life.
“I can tell you I was looking for someone who was better looking than me to play me,” laughed Estefan. “But it was about personality. The guys who play my role spent a lot of time with me, and captured me — the movements, the accent.”
However you ultimately feel about the show, you will find yourself inadvertently humming the tenaciously catchy choruses to “On Your Feet” during the car ride home. “Conga,” in particular, is a first-rate earworm, the kind of ’80s gold you find yourself doing the dishes to for days afterward, and the titular “On Your Feet” sounds like a big-haired girl power anthem (but with more syncopation). For fans of more old-fashioned Cuban music, the musical also features vintage Cuban songs like “Cuando Salí de Cuba,” a torch song popularized by legendary Cuban songstress Celia Cruz.
And by the way, during “On Your Feet!” the audience is encouraged to get up and actually do the conga.
“People dance during the show,” said Estefan. “Especially at the end of the show, and right before the intermission. Sometimes we’re in the theater, and people don’t know we’re there … one day a lady tried to pick me up to start dancing, and then she said, ‘Oh my god, it’s you.’ It’s just great to see people dancing and having a great time.”
“On Your Feet!” Oct. 23-28; Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle; tickets start at $30; 800-982-2787, stgpresents.org