ON YOUR FEET!
Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 4th September, 2019
This biographical show tells the story of Gloria Estefan’s rise to fame, from humble beginnings as a Cuban immigrant living in Miami to world-renowned music star. As far as stories go, it’s pretty straightforward: girl meets musician boy, she fronts his band, they make records, overcome the prejudices of the music industry, hit the big time… It seems quite an easy ride with very little conflict. There’s some argy-bargy with her mother, who is supposedly envious of her daughter’s career having lost out on her own big chance…
As the show goes on, you come to think, the plot is not the point here. The point is the performance. It’s an absolute party of a production right from curtain up. The energy blasts from the stage and does not let up. It’s bright and breezy, colourful and cheery, and we are reminded how many hits she (and the Miami Sound Machine, who hardly feature) had. Dr Beat, 1-2-3, Anything For You…
Heading the cast is Philippa Stefani as Gloria and she is, well, glorious, bringing a Cinderella quality to the role, as Gloria (quickly) overcomes her initial shyness, learns to stand up for herself, and conquer the world. Stefani is paired with George Ioannides as husband-mentor-business manager Emilio Estefan, a passionate advocate of Gloria’s music, a charming, handsome presence, with some ‘amusing’ linguistic blunders.
Also strong is Madalena Alberto as Gloria’s strident, stubborn mother, and there is fine comic character acting from Karen Mann as Gloria’s abuela, Consuela. (There is a bilingual aspect to the dialogue, with Spanish phrases translated into English, a bit like Dora The Explorer.) Robert Oliver also makes an impact as record executive Phil, who overcomes his reluctance when the money starts rolling in.
The bus crash that almost ended it all for Gloria leads to the emotional heart of the piece, not so much her brave fight back to full mobility, but the reappearance of her estranged mother at the hospital. A flashback scene to Cuba, before the family fled to the US, attempts to add a bit of depth and historical context, but doesn’t really go anywhere.
On the whole, this is light-hearted, easy-going, undemanding fare. The book, by Alexander Dinelaris, contains some amusing exchanges, and keeps the action zipping along from hit to hit. Inevitably, the show is at its best during the musical numbers. The Latin arrangements are infectious, the singing and dancing are top notch – although I find some of the male vocalists a bit shouty. This is proper feelgood stuff, a surge of sunshine in these benighted times. The Rhythm is Going To Get You is not an empty threat. You will get off your arse and on your feet.