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Phil Willmott

Review: ON YOUR FEET at the London Coliseum

On Your Feet The streets of London are bathed in sun at the moment but in the event of cloud you need only duck into the Coliseum Theatre for a top up of Cuban Sunshine.

ON YOUR FEET tells the story of Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio‘s rise from local wedding singers in Cuba to international pop royalty via Miami.

Actually for the most part the musical makes it look like a pretty smooth ride. The writer Alexander Dinelaris tries to build in a bit of grit with a mother daughter conflict, and it’s traditional in these shows to match the female star with a volatile husband but mum is always going to come around and, although we hear Emilio has a temper, he’s so adorable, as played by the ridiculously handsome George Ioannides, that he’s no Ike Turner or Sonny Bono. Instead the scenes from Gloria’s life portray her as a sort of Latino Mary Poppins, wherever she goes pleasing and sunny tunes seem to erupt around her.

Act 2 is much more dramatically satisfying than Act 1. The first half is a bit of an amble through lots of “we made it through this and next we did this” scenes. In the second half, however, Gloria and her family have to overcome a tragic accident and finally we start rooting for her to succeed against the odds.

The best thing about the show are the vocals of Christie Prades as Gloria, her voice soars effortlessly in the emotional climax of numbers whilst at other times it’s as smooth as melted chocolate.

Livening up proceedings no end are Madelena Alberto in the mother roll, who gets a number of songs to herself which she delivers with style and panache and Karen Mann, as an extremely lovable grandmother, a game old gal who’s always ready with a funny line full of love and encouragement. 

I must say I was a little disappointed with how cheap the set looked. This was a big Broadway show in 2015 so I expected a little more than a few sliding panels drenched in projections. However it’s effective enough especially when it needs to close down the vast stage for more intimate moments.

Will ON YOUR FEET sell enough tickets to fill the cavernous Coliseum Theatre until the end of August? Well, I sincerely hope people go because the whole thing is full of joy, the rhythms of the big numbers are infectious and the dancing is electric. There’s obviously a strong Latino community in New York which will have kept sales buoyant there but I do wonder if there are enough Estefan fans in London. Although one of Gloria’s battles was to be recognised outside the Latino market as a mainstream artist there’s a distinctive Cuban vibe to most of the lesser known material, which I love, but I'm not sure that it crossed over into commercial pop in the UK, despite her handful of chart hits.

Like all good jukebox biog musicals you go in thinking you may not know enough of the artist’s songs to appreciate the show and end up delighted and surprised by how many you do. I’ve had RHYTHM IS GONNA GET YOU, ANYTHING FOR YOU, 1-2-3, GET ON YOUR FEET, DON'T WANNA LOSE YOU & COMING OUT OF THE DARK rattling around in my head ever since.

On a serious note there was horrific picture on the front of recent newspapers showing a dead young father and child pulled from a river they’d attempted to cross whilst fleeing poverty in Mexico to start a new life in America. A shaming example of how immigrants are treated in Trump’s America. In contrast The Estefans are the perfect example of an immigrant family who made the switch from Cuba to the U.S in times past and in doing so enhanced the lives of millions with their music. America needs to start treasuring and welcoming the different immigrant communities that make up its vibrant culture again and stop treating them with contempt.

On Your Feet tickets