Review – On Your Feet ****

With that title this is a musical making a big promise. But with Gloria Estefan’s infectious rhythms delivered by a powerhouse on stage band it’s clear from the off that we’re heading in the right direction.

Even if all you know of Ms Estefan are the hits from her and Miami Sound Machine, you’ll find this juke box musical telling the story of her life treads often familiar ground. A musical child, she fights against the wishes of her family to pursue her dream. Record company bosses want to confine her to the Spanish speaking audience and fail to spot the hit potential of the recording they are hawking around. Then a few airplays later on local US radio stations and they have a hit. We’ve seen all this before and the staging, with a couple of small sets wheeled on either side of the stage to represent a kitchen, a hotel room, a dressing room, or whatever, is effective but functional.

But the show is lifted from the bland and predictable by a number of things. For starters, Ms Estefan’s story of an immigrant family coming to America hits topical notes in this Trump era that probably weren’t intended when the show was originally conceived (it ran in the US in 2015). Added to this there’s the re-telling of the serious tour bus crash which threatened not only her career but her life. Then there’s the ensemble. A riot of colourful costumes and energy, they bring the stage alive with precise and lively choreography by Sergio Trujillo. Christie Prades is brilliant as Gloria, commanding the stage having played the role on Broadway. Out shining her, for me, was Madalena Alberto as her mother. A flashback scene shows how she used to be a performer in her own right and Alberto was just superb. I really wanted more of her. Finally there’s the aforementioned band, who slide into and out of the action as required on a moving platform. Even if you’re not (or weren’t previously) into her music, hearing it live and lively makes it hard to resist.

The stage is framed by a rig of motorised lights which also play their part in bringing the whole venue alight. They play a useful role in the Coliseum which is a challenging venue for musical theatre, I find. It’s a cavernous and spectacular space even before the curtain rises. The room itself is always in danger of overwhelming the show playing in it. Any intimate and dramatic moments are hard to bring off, but the big musical numbers fare much better.

This colourful and high energy show seems designed for summer. It runs at the London Coliseum until 31 August, capturing the heat and light of a bright summer’s day, whatever our summer turns out to offer this year.

Sue in the Stalls attended courtesy of London Box Office.



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