Rhythm almost gets you in On Your Feet

On Your Feet 1
Christie Prades (center) is Gloria Estefan in the touring company of On Your Feet!, part of the SHN season at the newly refurbished Golden Gate Theatre. Below: Prades with Adriel Flete and Company. Photos by Matthew Murphy

On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical is exactly what you think it’s going to be, and that’s not a bad thing. Nor is it a great thing, but this amiable show lands squarely in the middle lane of enjoyable live musical entertainment. Is it a musical? Well, it’s a jukebox musical, meaning it mixes pop songs into a narrative, and some of it lands very well and some of it not so much.

The overwhelming impression of this production, the first show in the spiffed-up SHN Golden Gate Theatre as part of the SHN season, is that Gloria Estefan and Emilio Estefan seem like lovely people. The show charts their humble beginnings in the Cuban community of Miami and into the business of pop music, where they have achieved international success.

Along the way, we get a host of songs, some traditional tunes in Spanish, some Miami Sound Machine hits and then Gloria’s solo hits once she left the Machine and spearheaded (with Emilio’s guidance) her journey up the pop charts. There’s added drama in Act 2 when Gloria is seriously injured in a tour bus accident and fights like a champion to get back on her feet, back on stage and back into life.

There’s not a lot of drama beyond the accident and tension between Gloria and her mom (apparently they share a stubborn streak), but there is a lot of singing and dancing. Director Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde, the new Pretty Woman musical on Broadway) knows how to create a smoothly flowing show energized by a sexy, athletic ensemble of dancers. His choreographer, Serjio Trujillo, is something of a jukebox musical expert, having provided lively moves for Jersey Boys (The Four Seasons), All Shook Up (Elvis), Summer (Donna Summer) and the Broadway-bound Ain’t Too Proud (The Temptations). Their work smooths over some of the weaker points of the book by Alexander Dinelaris, which tends toward movie-of-the-week-level scenes and dialogue.

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As Gloria, Christie Prades provides a strong center around which the entire musical swirls. She sounds just enough like the real Gloria to provide comfort to the fans but also has her own flair, both as a singer and a dancer. She sparks nicely with Mauricio Martinez as Emilio, although there’s a cringe-inducing moment when Emilio is the target of an admiring remark from a record exec about the size of the man’s balls. Seriously.

The best part of On Your Feet! comes, as is so often the case in jukebox musicals, once the story is dispensed with so we can just enjoy the music, singing and dancing. After Gloria performs a triumphant “Coming Out of the Dark” on the American Music Awards to show the world how strong her recovery has been, the musical turns into an extended medley of songs, with the curtain call efficiently folded in. That’s the moment when the audience is supposed to finally let loose and let the rhythm really get them and feel the irresistible pull of the conga (we hear “Conga” a whole lot in this show, by the way). I wasn’t quite there, but people around me were. It’s in those moments when the jukebox musical is at its most effective, a Broadway-caliber concert a few degrees removed from the real thing but enjoyable nonetheless.

On Your Feet! continues through Oct. 7 at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco. Visit shnsf.com for information. The show moves to San Jose’s Center for the Performing arts, 255 S. Almaden Blvd., Oct. 9-14. Visit ticketmaster.com for information.

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