On Your Feet at Westchester Broadway Theatre, Elmsford, NY

Published: Monday, June 17, 2019 By: EUGENE PAUL Source: The Rockland Review

When Emilio Estefan decided to climb the Olympus of Broadway – he is the driving force catapulting their careers, his and Gloria’s – they’ve been married for over 41 years – always to new heights, he never dreamed that their story would become the pitch-perfect saga of and for immigrants in America and thus a beacon  in today’s newly created political wars. An election may depend on understanding their success. Of all the thousands and thousands of stories depicting the American Dream, their struggles to overcome bigotry and prejudice, of achieving extraordinary worldwide acclaim, plus the very pinnacle of receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our country’s highest civilian honor, makes for a rouser of a tale.  It lays out what it is to be an American, it even enlarges the scope of what is American music.

Prize-winning screenwriter, Alexander Dinelaris, taxed with encompassing all this in the book of their musical, has grounded his storytelling in their lives. Which takes us back to their origins in Cuba and child Gloria Fajardo (Isabella Preston) singing her songs in the streets, growing into beautiful teen Gloria (outstanding Maria Bilbao) persuaded to join dashing Emilio Estefan (excellent Jose Luaces) and his  local band as their singer, a move ferociously opposed by Gloria’s mother, Gloria Fajardo (splendid Karmine Alers), secretly abetted by her grandmother, Consuelo (fine Sandy Rosenberg).

Mama Gloria is so outraged that her daughter disobeys her, she vows never to speak to her again, never attends their wedding, never meets her grandchildren. Until Gloria, at the pinnacle of her fame, rich, beautiful, wildly successful, is crushed in an automobile accident. Mama Gloria’s bitter resolve melts. She has to visit her adored child in the hospital. The family is healed. But it is months and months before Gloria Estefan is able to stand on her own two feet, months and months more before she dares put herself before an audience, urged, driven supported by her husband.

In the intervening scene after scene, song after song – they are all Gloria’s –book writer Dinelaris carries them to the peak of the Latino music scene, their Florida based company along with their musicians, the Miami Sound Machine, piling hit upon hit. After which Emilio wants to climb another mountain: he wants them to cross over, into the American music scene.  They’re more than good enough. Their music is worldwide. And they run up against the wall, the barrier of sheer prejudice. Even their agent forbids them to try.  The music business won’t let them. That’s all Emilio needs to hear.

They start from scratch. Emilio and Gloria hand carry their latest work to disc jockeys at radio stations. members of the band hand carry their music to sympathetic listeners.  Gloria, Emilio, and the band play weddings, bar mitzvahs, parties. Until their perseverance wins them a brave new national break.. In English. The Latin soul has become a part of the American soul.

And in song after song, music runs through their life stories. Gloria’s mother, as wonderful as she is, singing and dancing her lost dreams. Gloria’s father, Jose Fajardo, severely wounded soldier (smashing Byron St. Cyr)  the best voice in the show. “Anything for you”. “I See Your Smile”.  “When Someone Comes Into Your Life”. “Oye Mi Canto.” “Cuba Libre”. “Mi Tierra”. “If I Never Get to Tell You”.

Along the way, the songs that came out of their lives have been coupled again and again with dancing that came out of their lives in splashes of colorful costumes (by Keith Nielsen) that partner and reverb with the music, Latino, yes, American, of course. Set designer Steve Loftus has found twenty-five different ways of adding to their story. Choreographer Rhonda Miller and director Donna Drake fulfill a Westchester Broadway Theatre tradition of exhorting their company to give 110%, which fits right in with the Gloria and Emilio tradition. It’s not only a  feel-good show of yesterday and tomorrow, it's very much a feel extra good show of today.                                                      

Good food, good service, free parking, and a bright show.