FULL EXTENDED INTERVIEW
On Your Feet! shares a real story about love and family and American pride. Helmed by Emilio & Gloria Estefan, who wrote all the music and lyrics, the Miami-based Cuban-American superstar couple bring a generation of music and culture to the Broadway stage with a story that spans generations. The production includes Gloria’s grandmother as a main character, not to mention a new song written specifically for the show by Gloria and her daughter Emily called “If I Never Get to Tell You.” It showcases Emilio and Gloria’s fate sealed forever by song when Emilio’s earlier incarnation Miami Latin Boys played a Cuban wedding in 1977 in which Gloria and her cousin joined in on the vocals, impressing the band so much that they joined and renamed the act Miami Sound Machine. The audience is taken on a journey from early romance, when Gloria finds her first-ever boyfriend Emilio, who later becomes her husband of 37 years. Miami Sound Machine makes a huge impact in 1985 with “Conga” and a string of other hits follow, as does Gloria’s solo stardom and eventually a horrific highway crash, which Gloria bounces back from, stronger and more inspired than ever. On Your Feet! is directed by Jerry Mitchell, Tony Award-winning choreographer of Kinky Boots and La Cage aux Folles, the former which he directed. Alex Dinelaris, Academy Award-winning screenwriter (Birdman) wrote the book, and Sergio Trujillo, four-time Drama Desk nominee and Olivier winner (Memphis, Jersey Boys) choreographed the production. Newcomer Ana Villafañe who makes her Broadway debut and Josh Segarra, who made his debut in 2011’s Lysistrata Jones (and more recently in 2012 Off-Broadway musical Dogfight) anchor the show as the stars, portraying Gloria and Emilio. With 100 million records sold between Miami Sound Machine and Gloria’s solo career, Gloria is considered the most successful female Latin crossover act, reaching international popularity and opening the door for many to follow. With Emilio & Gloria’s combined catalog and 26 Grammys to their names, audiences will spend plenty of time out of their seats during songs like “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” “Live for Loving You,” “Everlasting Love” and “Oye,” and they will also be frozen in time during ballads “Coming Out of the Dark,” “Don’t Wanna Lose You” and “Reach,” while also being reminded of a handful of Spanish language hits. Gloria took some time with New York City Monthly, opening up about the Estefans’ big Broadway debut, their process finding the show’s stars and her love for New York:
New York City Monthly: On Your Feet! sounds like an absolute labor of love. The musical made a run over the summer in Chicago before preparing for the Broadway premiere November 5 at the Marquis Theater. Now that previews have passed, billboards are up in Times Square, and your posts are updated on Instagram – it must be intense watching the performances, thinking about your life, your career, your special moments with Emilio hitting the Broadway stage – what kinds of things are racing through your mind and do you have any idea what this might feel like opening night?
Gloria Estefan: Oh my gosh. I can’t even begin to imagine opening night, because in addition to all the hoopla and the cast I’m going to have practically all of Miami here, which will be intense and beautiful. So many things, Emilio and I always focus on how to make it better, what little tweaks we can make. It is a labor of love, it’s been magical, everybody is on the same page to do the best possible thing that we can. Emilio and I really appreciate what Jerry Mitchell and Alex (Dinelaris) have done – you can do a great production, but if the book is not there and the heart is not already in the story, then you’re not going to get what needs to happen on that stage. Sergio (Trujillo), the choreographer wanted to do some really authentic things, he’s Columbian and he really wanted to include Cuban rhythms, Caribbean rhythms and others. I think I have cried more this year than I have in my entire lifetime. During the readings, Emilio and I tried to hold it together, but we lost it. Every time this is performed in a different way, something gets us. Everything in the show is real. The actual truth about how he does his funny things and mixes up words and makes me laugh. The cast is the largest Hispanic cast in the history of Broadway. They all have some connection, they feel very proud to be representing their culture. It’s the fastest run to Broadway – two years since it was envisioned. It’s crazy. It’s been beautiful for us. Just like our music, it’s – you can’t get any more American than the Great White Way. We are honored and grateful. It’s a difficult time with Latinos and it’s an election cycle. I think it’s important to balance and celebrate our differences and heritage and the positive contributions we have made to this country, we are really thrilled.
NYCM: Is it a difficult thing to do, to find someone like yourself and like Emilio: Ana Villafañe as you, Gloria, and Josh Segarra as Emilio to re-imagine your lives together during the Miami Sound Machine days, as your love grew stronger and your bond continued through your solo stardom?
GE: Yeah, of course it is. You always take a risk. If you don’t risk, you don’t gain. Josh was the very first person who read for Emilio’s role. Ana was the very last person for me. We were down to the wire. Josh, he’s such a cutie pie. Emilio didn’t want to look any further. Josh really did his homework. For my role it was a lot tougher, there are very few altos, I was not looking for a clone but you are looking for a connection. We saw over three thousand women and we were down to our last four. We liked how they were singing but then they were doing very difficult scenes but that really narrowed the herd down. They need to be triple-threats, in a very competitive and high-performance venue which is Broadway. Ana was supposed to be the last girl, it was one of those things where she walked in the room, we were two weeks from rehearsals. It was one of those Hollywood moments for me where there was an aura where something jumped out of her body – to me. She could be my daughter, this girl. She sounded like me talking, I didn’t know at the time but she went to my high school, Our Lady of Lourdes Academy Catholic School. We ended up having all of these crazy connections. She sang two songs, “Anything For You” and “1-2-3.” It’s not like she sounded like me but she drew me in to her performance. She moved me. And then she did the acting side and that really clinched it for me. We needed to see two other girls, to be fair. Every night on that stage she has grown. If we hadn’t been at a show we had some previous commitment, but she continuously adds subtle little things that maybe some people do not notice, but she puts so much heart and soul into it. She was born in Atlanta and the first song she ever sang was “Reach” (at 9 years old). [Editor’s note: This was the 1996 Olympic theme song sung by Gloria in Atlanta] She had some challenges in her life. The universe conspires when it is meant to be. My grandma from another world is a huge star in this show, she is making this happen. I’m stoic, I’m very strong, I’m not a crier. I’ll be sitting in a play, I say I’m not going to do it. And I see grown men literally sobbing in the moment. We are actually connecting with people. You can go to a show and be entertained, but when you move someone…
NYCM: New York, like Miami must represent a lot for you and Emilio. In terms of New York, you have played several times over the years at Madison Square Garden, you recently honored the Pope with a performance, welcoming him to the United States. What does New York represent to you in general? What have been some of your greatest memories of fans?
GE: Well let me start with…they put me back together in New York. After that accident on March 20 in 1990. Dr. Michael Neuwirth kind of put me back together. The love that I received, people praying on their knees, on the first floor of that hospital, sending me all their love down to Victor’s Cafe who made me taro root soup when I wasn’t eating. It really brought it home when I had the accident, to inspire people on a human level. We all go through stuff, it all depends how you deal with it. Everyone has hardship in their life. I had an incredible four sold-out nights at Madison Square Garden throughout my career. If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere! This is a microcosm, so the energy of New York is something that really goes well with our music, filled with passion and energy and that’s what New York is all about. Other than Miami I think New York is the most inspirational and tied personally to our lives.
NYCM: Is there a scene in On Your Feet! that you are most excited about or that you are particularly happy to share? I’d imagine the audience is dancing on their feet by the end of the show/finale, is that right?
GE: Well they’re already on their feet by the intermission point, literally. “Conga” is in the middle of the aisles. By end of the show for sure, everyone is up and dancing. The way that people are being touched is really impressive. What I’m most proud of is this show has really strong women, characters – my mother and grandmother and little Gloria, women roles that span generations.
NYCM: The holiday season is upon us and when I think of the name Gloria Estefan or I hear a song of yours, I think of heart, passion and celebration. Why should New Yorkers and visitors of New York City absolutely not miss On Your Feet! this season and while it runs on Broadway?
GE: Well, honestly I think it’s because there will be something on that stage on a human level that hopefully will connect with the audience. It will inspire them, renew their faith in the American Dream and renew their faith in love. Love to people, to music and this amazing country that we live in and that we share. And I think it’s the best one in the world, and I’ve traveled a lot.