on your feet

On Your Feet!

Birmingham Hippodrome


What a cracker of a high octane show, packed with Latin rhythm and sunshine, with the bonus of a heart-warming story to carry everything along.

Too many jukebox musicals run along the lines of we were young and unknown, then we were famous and now here is a tribute act concert, but, much like Jersey Boys, the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan would make a solid drama without any music whatsoever.

And what a drama it is. A young girl who flees Cuba with her family, A girl whose mother has a doctorate in Cuba but is a nobody in Miami, and whose father, a soldier in pre-revolution Cuba,flees and joins the US Army, serves in Vietnam and then suffers multiple sclerosis.

A girl who starts to sing at weddings, bar mitzvahs and the like with the Miami Latin Boys – all while studying for a degree in psychology - and became one of the hottest properties in music with record sales in excess of 115 million world-wide, one of the most successful crossover artists of all time with her Cuban fusion music which appealed to both Latin and non-Latin audiences.

Throw in a crash in her tour bus which almost killed her, resulting in a broken spine and a year of rehabilitation along with clashes with her mother and there is hardly room to squeeze any songs in.

But squeeze them in they do with 21 musical numbers including hits such as Rhythm Is Gonna Get You, 1-2-3 and the one that made her a world star, Conga.


gloria and Emilio

Philippa Stefani as Gloria and George Ioannides as Emilio

And they are belted out in style by a cast led by Philippa Stefani who gives us a Gloria Estefan full of life and passion. Alongside her is her husband Emilio played by George Ioannides, who guides his wife’s career with equal passion. The pair have been married 41 years, incidentally.

Almost stealing the show is Karen Mann as Consuelo, Gloria’s feisty grandmother and also her biggest fan and supporter.

Her most troubled fan though is her mother, also Gloria, played by Madalena Alberto. We discover she was wanted by Hollywood to dub Shirley Temple into Spanish but her father would not allow it – a decision which coloured her life, a mix of bitterness, regret, perhaps even envy, bringing clashes with her daughter as she tried to pursue her own career.

It was a clash which saw the pair not speak for two years until that fateful crash of the tour bus which saw initial reports that Gloria had been killed.

That brought her mother to her side and a reconciliation with the family and a lovely original ballad, If I Never Got to Tell You, written by Estefan with music by her daughter Emily.

It is a sad song full of regret of things not said and a fear of facing the future alone by Emilio but it is a beautiful performance by Alberto as the mother who had nearly lost the daughter she had refused to speak to for two years. You can see and feel the emotion in her face and voice.

There is good support from Francesca Lara Gordan as Gloria’s sister Rebecca, Robert Oliver as record company executive Phil and Elia Lo Tauro as Gloria's father José while a 15 strong ensemble will probably end up a couple of stone lighter at the end of the tour. Sergio Trujillo’s choreography is lively and complex, with one remarkable scene when the men are squatting on one foot with an extended raised leg, being slowly revolved by a woman partner.

I must admit I am to dancing what Carlos Acosta is to welding, but it impressed me no end.


Madalena Alberto as Estefan's mother, Gloria Fajardo, in her final performance before she was forced to flee Cuba

Then there was the on-stage band under musical director Danny Belton, just seven of them but what a sound they managed.

Writer Alexander Dinelaris has done a fine job in working the story around songs, it is a delicate balance and he manages it well while director Jerry Mitchell has managed to keep the two threads, narrative and music, moving along helped by a flexible set from David Rockwell which drops from the flies, rolls on and off and adds interest with video projections. All clever stuff.

A mention too for the signing at the side of the stage, from Karen Ward-Welch of Theatresign who deserves a credit. She mouthed much of the dialogue and all the songs and signed everything, on stage for the entire show - with a few nice moves to boot! She wasn’t intrusive, was never a distraction, added a bit of interest in fact, and made it a more inclusive performance.

I must admit my knowledge of Gloria Estefan was limited but not any more – respect to the lady. It’s a great story and a great night’s entertainment, slick, fizzing with energy, full of passion and emotion. Whether you are an Estefan fan or not matters not a jot. This is pure, feel-good entertainment and you will head home with a guaranteed smile and a little Latin rhythm coursing through your veins.

To 07-09-19

Roger Clarke


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