The story of Gloria Estefan and her rise to fame with the Miami Sound Machine is interesting, but not wildly compelling as musical biographies go.
Fortunately, the production “On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical,” playing now through Nov. 19, at the Fox Theatre, leans heavily on the music and charming cast to make this jukebox musical a winner.
Gloria (Christie Prades) grew up in Miami, the daughter of Cuban immigrants Jose (Jason Martinez) and Gloria Fajardo (Nancy Ticotin). Gloria was a bright student on track to earn a college degree, but her love of music and inherent talent did not go unnoticed.
She catches the eye of local musician and ambitious charmer Emilio Estefan (Mauricio Martinez), who puts her out front of the group and the Miami Sound Machine begins to enjoy some modest success. In addition to becoming a professional pairing, Gloria and Emilio become a romantic item and wind up getting married.
The most compelling part of their story is their quest to “cross over” from the Spanish-language Latin music scene into conventional pop music and the resistance they received from the music industry.
Mixing Latin beats with English lyrics was pretty much unheard of in American music at the time. This also speaks to the greater importance of “On Your Feet!” in that Latin culture and music rarely find their way to the Broadway stage and when they do they are typically an appropriation by lily-white producers (see “West Side Story” and “Evita”).
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a parade of ’80s hits like “1-2-3,” “Conga,” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” and “Turn the Beat Around” to fall back on. Interspersed with more traditional Latin music, the songs spark the show to life with vibrant lighting and hip-shaking choreography.
Backed by an onstage orchestra that features actual members of the Miami Sound Machine, “On Your Feet!” is a production that is wisely music first.
The cast is solid, with Mauricio Martinez being a particular standout as he brings a lot of passion and charm to the role of Emilio.
The second act is a little uneven both in tone and song choice, but the crowd-pleasing finale that plays more like a concert than a musical brings “On Your Feet!” to a rousing conclusion.
Hopefully, “On Your Feet!” is a harbinger of more musical diversity coming to Broadway instead of being a one-off novelty.
“On Your Feet!” is playing now through Nov. 19, at the Fox Theatre. For tickets call 314-534-1111 or go to metrotix.com.