REVIEW: ‘On Your Feet!’, Birmingham Hippodrome

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Direct from the West End, ‘On Your Feet!’ brings the rhythm revolution to the Birmingham Hippodrome as part of its national tour. 

This biographical musical tells the inspiring true story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, charting their humble beginnings as Cuban immigrants on the streets of Miami, to their rise to international stardom.

Featuring some of the most iconic pop songs of the era, such as ‘Rhythm Is Gonna Get You’, ‘Conga’, ‘1-2-3’ and ‘Get On Your Feet’, the musical is a colourful celebration of Cuban culture.

Gloria loves to sing. When Emilio visits her house to invite her to a rehearsal with the Miami Latin Boys, she impresses with a heartfelt performance of an original song. It is not long before the Miami Latin Boys become The Miami Sound Machine, and Gloria is touring with the group.

It is not all plain sailing for the couple, however. Emilio and Gloria face several obstacles to their ambitions, with Gloria’s mother unwilling to let her go, and record producers reluctant to back them. After a bus that carried Emilio, Gloria and their young son crashes, it is feared that Gloria may never be able to walk again, let alone perform.

Directed by two-time Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell, with a book by Alexander Dinelaris, this beautiful love story highs the drive, determination and fight of two people who changed the face of Latin music, fusing Cuban rhythms with American pop to bring infectious music to the masses.

Philippa Stefani is magnificent as Gloria, in a very worthy performance. With a wide-eyed, eager passion for music, we see a great determination in her to sing, and to bring their music, music she believes cleanses the soul, to the masses. Working tirelessly to achieve her dreams, she risks so much but, with a boundless energy, she bounces back, fighting.

George Ioannides is wonderful as Gloria’s business manager-come-partner Emilio who, knowing what Gloria is capable of, pushes her to be the best she can be. The two complement each other perfectly, their relationship particularly touching.

Madalena Alberto is sublime as Gloria’s mother, Gloria Fajardo. Having lost out on following her own dreams, she is reluctant to allow Gloria to follow hers. Though jealousy may play a part in this, she needs Gloria at home, to help care for her father, who suffers with cerebral palsy, and her younger sister Rebecca. When Gloria takes Rebecca on the road against her mother’s wishes, her mother becomes estranged. 

After Gloria’s injury following the bus crash, she visits her daughter in hospital, and lovingly bathes her whilst singing about how much she loves her daughter, whose dreams for herself are her mother’s dreams. Getting off on the wrong foot with Emilio, who blunderingly refers to her as old, and who she believes had taken her daughter away from her, there is an affecting moment of reconciliation as the two bond over their love of Gloria in what is a poignant, tender family moment.

Karen Mann is wonderful as Gloria’s grandmother Consuelo. So proud of Gloria, she is so supportive and encouraging of her dreams, from telling Emilio that Gloria will attend a rehearsal with the Miami Latin Boys, to getting up on stage and dancing with Gloria at one of her concerts, familiar with the choreography. An endearingly matriarch with huge appeal and witty one-liners, who engages in sneaky operations in the shadows to help promote The Miami Sound Machine’s records, Nana Consuelo is a hit.

An easy-to-follow storyline with exhilaratingly fast-paced choreography, stunning set pieces transporting audiences from the built up urban estates of Miami, to the packed out auditoriums with thousands of screaming fans, ‘On Your Feet’ is the perfect tonic to these troubled times. 

Once the music hits your system, you’ll be doing the conga all the way home.

A delightful, joyous, uplifting production, ‘On Your Feet!’ is right where you’ll be by the finale, a slave to the Cuban rhythm. 

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