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"On Your Feet!" show #867

There is something to be said about a musical which successfully portrays its central figure in a streamlined, engaging way that honors their story with smartly-selected music and superb writing. On Your Feet! accomplishes this very task with the story of Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio. Led by an infallible Alina Gonzalez as Gloria Estefan, this On Your Feet! has the energy of a concert balanced with the intimacy of the female singer’s harrowing journey to stardom. Director Juan Luis Guzman, choreographer Steven Montalvo, and vocal director Michael Brandon Fidalgo have assembled a stellar cast that rounds out the supporting roles and ensemble tracks with talent and commitment.

(Alina Gonzalez (Gloria Estefan); Photo credit: Kristin Goehring)

Gonzalez is purely a master of the triple-threat dynamism Gloria demands, both as a stage role and the real-life Gloria. The crossover from Spanish-singing artist to English is not one to be discounted because Gloria was, indeed, a pioneer in making that happen. And while much of Gloria’s real-life discography has the oft-played upbeats, this musical gives tribute to her ballads as they serve to drive her relationships with her mother, her husband, and her love for the music. Gonzalez delivers all the dancing, acting, and singing one would want in the highlights like “Conga,” “1-2-3,” and a stunning “Wrapped,” but a singular moment stands out. In a stirring duet-then-solo-then-duet turn in “Anything For You”--serving as Gloria’s “try-out” for the Emilio’s already-assembled male band--Guzman has Emilio, played by a terrifically cool and suave John Piper, cross downstage as he takes in Gloria’s performance. As Gloria’s sister Rebeca, played with wonderful sisterly chemistry by Anysah Galvan, steps away, allowing Gloria to have the solo moment, we as the audience see exactly what Emilio sees: a star in the making. Gonzalez, from that point forward, gives her Gloria every ounce of believable grit, talent, and passion for her family and career that can be conjured in a two-hour musical. Gonzalez’s gravitas matches exactly what the role demands, and she delivers a starring performance.

The true success of this production is Guzman’s dedication to making Alexander Dinelaris’s book sing. Specifically, when Cady Mejias is on stage as Gloria Fajardo, Gloria Estefan’s mother, the acting beats and family-first mentality is incredibly powerful to see develop. Mejias’s maternal delivery with Gonzalez and Piper is pitch-perfect in its authenticity and passion. Mejias gives a stellar turn in “Mi Tierra,” showcasing her triple-threat abilities finely with emphasis on her powerhouse vocals. Both Piper and Mejias team up for a beautifully sung and acted “If I Never Got to Tell You” in act two. Yvette Montijo rounds out the Estefan/Fajardo family as Consuelo, grandmother to Gloria Estefan. Montijo’s comedic bits match her tender dialogue of advice as Gloria continues to rise in fame while still committing to her family as best she can.

(Down Center-Alina Gonzalez (Gloria Estefan) and John Piper (Emilio); with the cast of On Your Feet!; Photo credit: Kristin Goehring)

Erik Valencia gives a lot with the spread out bits that Jose Fajardo, Gloria Estefan’s father, has to offer throughout his scene work and singing alongside Gonzalez and the cast. Quincy Maxwell plays the sleazy-turned-understanding producer, Phil, with schmucky charm and hilarious bravado in his scene work and singular dance turn, which is a comedic treat. Dominic Grijalva’s scenic design is outstanding in its gift of space for dance and simplicity of location-specificity; but especially as it holds the awesome band, led by music director Jordan Williams. The band is a character because the music is the other lead role alongside Gloria and Emilio, and Williams leads the band as such. The ensemble is, literally, on their feet, dancing and singing and filling out the scenes with fantastic choreography by Montalvo. While the precision wasn’t uniformly there on the opening night performance, the execution of every dance number—and there are a lot of them—never diminished. Brielle Yang's costume design work is fabulous, with a swath of the Cuban and Miami flare honored and celebrated on each performer. Dan Aldape’s impeccable lighting design supports Guzman and Montlavo’s staging with the appropriate timing, palette, and use of lights that give appropriate intimacy and energy to the numbers and scenes.

Simply put, On Your Feet! serves as Selma Arts Center’s gift of having an unapologetically Latin celebration for their Central Valley audiences; it’s a sheer joy to see and will have you on your feet with applause before you know it!

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