On Your Feet: Musical Review

Rating: 4

By Richard Barber

Oh, this is more like it! The last time I was in Frank Matcham’s exquisite London Coliseum, it was for the lowering experience of the woeful Man of La Mancha. Now, in sweeps Gloria Estefan with the Latin-tinged story of her extraordinary life and all memories turn to dust.

You’d need a heart of stone and cement in your boots not to warm to this life-enhancing, toe-tapping riot of rhythm and raw energy, all the hits featured but worked in with some aplomb by writer Alexander Dinelaris (he won an Oscar for his screenplay of Birdman). Yes, it’s hagiography but also some way short of being a jukebox musical.

Much of the credit for that goes to Christie Prades, herself a Miami-based Cuban, playing our heroine with a winning blend of sweetness and steel. And she’s got a fine pair of lungs on her. We trace her swift escape from Castro’s Cuba when still a toddler and her eventual upbringing in South Florida where her natural talent is spotted by Emilio Estefan (handsome George Ioannides) and the birth of their band, Miami Sound Machine.

Big in Latin America, the struggle for Gloria and Emilio was in crossing over to the lucrative English-speaking market, something they finally achieved via a string of hits: Conga, Anything For You, 1-2-3 among them. And, along the way, they fall in love which this sometimes frantic production finds space to convey with real tenderness and conviction.

There are hurdles to be cleared before Gloria conquers the world. Her adored father, Jose (Elia Lo Tauro), develops multiple sclerosis on his return from Vietnam and is reduced to a shaking, bed-ridden husk of his former self. Gloria’s mother, also Gloria (played magnificently by Madalena Alberto), fights tooth and nail to prevent her elder daughter leaving home to find the fame and fortune denied her by her controlling father when offered the chance to dub Shirley Temple into Spanish in her many Hollywood films.

And, most importantly of all, there is the near-fatal 1990 coach crash which leaves Gloria on the point of permanent paralysis but which she battles back from in a triumphant performance at the American Music Awards the following year.

Sergio Trujillo’s choreography is pin-sharp throughout. Karen Mann has a lot of fun with Gloria’s warm-hearted battle-axe of a granny, Consuelo. And, even if I couldn’t always catch everything being said in thick Latino accents, like the song says: Rhythm Is Gonna Get You!

On Your Feet! is at the London Coliseum until August 31. Box office: 020 7845 9300 or visit onyourfeetmusical.co.uk