Christie Prades Interview: "I feel like I’m getting shot out of a cannon… in the best way possible!"
Last night the London Coliseum, home of the English National Opera and perhaps accustomed to a more reserved style of theatregoing, was introduced to the party-starter that is... "Conga"!!! The West End premiere of On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan, the latest bio-musical import from Broadway, officially opened with a special Gala performance attended by Emilio and the "Queen of Latin Pop" herself, and yes, audience members were indeed dancing in the aisles of the iconic auditorium.
Following a lengthy run of almost 800 performances on the Great White Way, a massive 18-month tour across the United States and a Dutch production, On Your Feet! is finally entertaining British crowds with this special summer engagement through to 31st August. And of course, with those infectious, Latin-infused pop hits from "Dr. Beat" to "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," summer is the perfect time to take a theatrical trip to Cuba and Miami and experience the story of a music legend. Read our interview with Grammy Award-winning superstar Gloria Estefan here.
Bringing the "Queen of Miami" to life on the London stage and making her West End debut is the gorgeous and talented Christie Prades. The triple-threat performer is a Miami native herself, born to Cuban parents, and she even studied at the exact same college as Emilio Estefan, graduating from the Honors College in Miami Dade with a degree in Mass Communications. But just like Gloria, she always yearned to be a performer and followed her heart to New York City, where she landed roles in productions of Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights and the classic musical West Side Story. Her On Your Feet! journey began as a swing and the first cover for the role of Gloria on Broadway, until Ms. Estefan personally invited her to step up and star as the leading lady full-time during the show's National Tour, with its official opening scheduled for October 2017 in... where else?... Miami, Florida. Fast forward a couple of years and by now, Christie is working the role like a well-oiled machine and that showed during last night's Gala performance, not missing a single (Dr.) beat and pouring all her love, energy and efforts into keeping the Estefan "Tradición" alive.
We previously caught up with Christie to get the low-down on her early memories of Gloria, Latino representation in the theatre industry, and making her West End debut...
How excited are you to be making your West End debut, starring as Gloria Estefan in On Your Feet!?
I am sooo excited! It’s extremely overwhelming but it’s wonderful to see how excited people are to bring this story here. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been very busy with it, doing it on Broadway and then going straight into our 18/19-month tour. Bringing it here and sharing a story about the culture where I’m from and a story about Gloria is getting people so pumped!
By now, as you mentioned, you’re wearing the role like a glove, having performed in New York and all over America. Is there a special significance for you in getting to play the London Coliseum?
Well, they told me that the Coliseum only recently started to house musical theatre, so that in itself is pretty special – getting to do a show here that isn’t an opera. I think this is also one of the biggest theatres in the West End, right? That makes it very exciting! To be honest, I’m still trying to gather my whole thoughts about this experience. I feel like I’m getting shot out of a cannon… in the best way possible! I’m from Miami. I’m Cuban-American. I’m all these things that are also incorporated and told in the story, so to bring a little bit of who I am along with Gloria to the West End is an incredible feeling and I feel very spoiled!
And of course, Gloria is commonly referred to as “The Queen of Miami,” as well as “The Queen of Latin Pop.” What were some of your first memories of her, when you were growing up in Miami yourself?
“Conga”!!! (Laughs) I always remember the Conga at all the Birthday parties when I was little. Of course, I never thought I would have to sing that song as a job. “Get On Your Feet” was also really popular there. “Turn the Beat Around,” when she did her rendition of that, and “Everlasting Love.” I remember my Mom constantly playing the CD of Gloria’s Greatest Hits, hearing it over and over again on repeat. I’ve been listening to all her music since I was a kid. It’s incredible to be able to sing those songs now and take a trip down Memory Lane a little bit.
I’m a huge fan of her music too and I love Latin music, in general. It was great to experience it in shows like On Your Feet! and In the Heights in mainstream theatre. But sadly, I feel it’s a genre that is very much underrepresented in the West End and on Broadway. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s actually doing a bit better now. There’s so many Hispanics and Latinos here in London. I actually have a cousin who lives here. I feel that the theatre community is changing so rapidly now. The fact that we’re able to tell this story through this music and allow people to expand their horizons beyond what they know in musical theatre is a beautiful thing. I feel very lucky to be in this generation where we can share this music and it can be taken in positively. I grew up with this music, so this is the norm for me, but to see people hear it for the first time or react to it in such a positive way, it’s opening doors and building bridges for other musicals like this in the future. It started with West Side Story essentially, but for such a long time there was nothing like this. And in terms of working actors, our tour – I think about 98% of us were Latinos. That’s the most that any Broadway show has ever had. That right there is a big deal for us.
And of course, Gloria opened doors and built bridges as a Latina trailblazer herself back then…
Yes! Just like when Gloria crossed over from the Spanish Language to the English market, you began to hear her music everywhere and in all languages!
So, in summary, what can British audiences expect from a trip to On Your Feet! at the London Coliseum?
Well, you’ll definitely be dancing a lot. That’s a given. You’ll get the concert feel, for sure, and all the songs you love. But you’ll also get the unexpectedness of the storyline where you see that she has these struggles with her family, especially her mother, and goes through her bus accident ordeal that leaves her close to paralysed and she has to start over. You get to see her father, who has multiple sclerosis, and how she had a hard life by having to take care of him and help out the family. You get to see a lot of raw material about who Gloria is as a person. I don’t think people expect that. They just think of this as a jukebox musical. That part of it is great, but you’re also going to get a part that you connect with so much more on a deeper, personal level. It’s a story about hope and perseverance which is something I think we need so badly at the moment. Whatever dream or goal you have in mind, it’s possible, no matter how big it may seem. You gotta keep at it and keep believing and that is exactly what Gloria and Emilio did.
On Your Feet! Tickets are available now for performances through to 31st August 2019.
(Production photos by Johan Persson)