Review - Gloria Estefan musical On Your Feet at the London Coliseum
"Rhythm is gonna get you", promises the famous Gloria Estefan hit, and its not so much a promise as a threat as it blares out - very loudly - from a punchy live onstage rhythm band at the top of On Your Feet!, a Broadway biomusical summer import to the London Coliseum. Just as that song took a year and a half to cross the Atlantic after its original US release in June 1987, finally charting in the UK in January 1989, so this show has taken nearly four years to reach London since its 2015 Broadway premiere.
It follows the now standard formula, from Jersey Boys (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons) and Beautiful (Carole King) to the current The Cher Show (soon to close on Broadway) and Tina - the Tina Turner Musical (transferring from the West End to Broadway this autumn), to track the life story of Estefan and her husband, musical muse and co-producer Emilio to the accompaniment of the hits she made famous.
Alexander Dinelaris's book makes rather a meal of a mostly rather undramatic palette, as we follow the schoolgirl Gloria to her first meeting with Emilio, a fall-out with her mother, a move from Cuba to Miami and their battles with their American record label to break out of the Latin music market and cross-over to the English language one. The production can't help avoiding cliches: during "Here We Are", as Gloria sings "There's nothing I can do/ To keep from loving you", the hyperactive visuals, with projections by Darrel Maloney, are, of course, exploding fireworks. (The otherwise slightly cheap looking set comprises sliding panels of louvred doors and windows, endlessly drawn across the stage).
The show acquires a bit of a dramatic spine during the second act when the Estefans' tour bus is involved in a motorway crash that leaves her facing the prospect of paralysis.
But the times the show actually ignites with real passion and power is during the rousing upbeat songs. If Sergio Trujillo's choreography is sometimes repetitive, it is certainly athletic, all swooning, sweeping flurries of movement in unison. And with an electrifying band under musical director Clay Ostwald pumping up the volume, your feet are all but powerless to not tap along.
The cast is energetically led by Christie Prades as a fiery Gloria and a tall, handsome George Ioannides as a suitably dreamy Emilio. But the real acting honours go to Madelena Alberto as Gloria's estranged mother and Karen Mann as her grandmother.
'Are you ready to party?', we're asked just before the inevitable megamix finale, and the audience is roused to dance along as Kenneth Posner's stadium lighting scans the stalls. Finally, the audience at On Your Feet! is on its feet for an otherwise frequently generic guilty pleasure.
On Your Feet! tickets are available now.
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