Gloria, Emilio Estefan Musical Has You ‘On Your Feet’ at Bushnell


Photo Credit: The Bushnell/On Your Feet

The story and Latino pop music of Gloria and Emilio Estefan lift you on your feet with congas galore propelled and the rat tat tat tat tat tat of the drums in the latest show to hit the Bushnell.

The upbeat musical bolsters your spirits, but it also gives a reality check. Not only does the musical unearth the history of the Estefans, but it also delivers messages that are relevant in today’s political climate.

Mauricio Martinez charms us and makes us laugh as the suave, impassioned Emilio Estefan, but he also portrays a spicy, persistent fighter. Not only do we witness Gloria battling music industry standards that demand separate markets for Latino songs and Spanish over English lyrics, but we also see Estefan stand up for Cuban immigrants’ recognition as Americans. He delivers the most poignant line of the play when a snooty, white traditional music producer tells him he won’t back Gloria’s music fusing Latino and American pop, insisting it must be sung in Spanish.

When Martinez said “look me in the face because this is what an American looks like” it resonated with the audience given today’s political upstir over immigration. Christie Prades also combats prejudice with a softer approach, remarking how she is singing in English because she is American and that is her language.

As the Estefans push hard from every angle to get their music out there, they are also fighting for all immigrants – Cuban and otherwise – to be treated as American residents, just like everybody else, and not typecasted.

But we also see an internal cultural and familial struggle between Gloria and her mother (Doreen Montalvo) as they clash over whether the road life of a musician pulls the singer away from her family duties. It’s heartwarming and inspiring to see them reach resolution after Gloria nearly dies when a tractor trailer hits her bus, causing a severe spinal injury that could have paralyzed her. Prades shows Gloria’s internal strength and pride while portraying her physical frailty and insecurities in recovering from her injuries.

Despite those heavy moments, the musical livens you and fills you with joy. Prades has sweet spice to her vocals. While you could hear fatigue in her voice after Gloria is hospitalized, she maintained power the rest of the show. Martinez’s voice was tender and silky to the ears.

Debra Cardona may not have been meant to deliver dynamic singing as Gloria’s grandmother (Consuelo), but she sure got the laughs in her quips and encouraging manipulation.

Spirited dance numbers flow into the aisles as actors pulled audience members up to dance with them, adding a rare interactive component that drew the audience in more. It was appropriate considering how much fans are a part of the music scene.

The adults were all very talented in this cast, but the child actors also shone from the fast-moving, fancy footwork of Jeremy (Carlos Careeras/Jordan Vergara) to the smooth, impressive voice and dynamic dancing of young Gloria (Ana-Sofia Rodriguez/Carmen Sanchez).

As always, the set was beautiful and the costumes were awestriking with a lot of sparkle.

The band was front and center in the production, stationed on stage as Gloria’s instrumentalists.

It almost seemed like the performance was never going to end because of the prolonged curtain call. At that point it felt like a concert because the whole audience was up dancing.

The show closed at the Bushnell Sunday. More information on upcoming shows at the theater is available on


Know Your Apartheid History Before Seeing ‘A Lesson from Aloes’


Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

If you have not read anything about the plot or Apartheid history behind “A Lesson from Aloes, you will leave Hartford Stage very confused.

I usually like to go into plays blind, without reading anything about it before, so that it won’t influence my opinion and I can interpret the play on my own. But it was a mistake to do that with this play by “Athol Fugard” because it was very hard to follow and understand the context of what was happening. It took me a very long time to figure out the play was even set in South Africa and then once I placed that I finally started to put together it was about Apartheid.

Part of my trouble identifying the setting of the story was subtle inconsistencies in their accents. One minute Randall Newsome sounded theatrically British and then I started to pick up a hint of a Scottish accent. I still don’t really understand where his character is supposed to be from, but the dialogue makes reference to him not being from South Africa. His wife, Gladys (Andrus Nichols), on the other hand sounds pretty steadily British, but she admits she hasn’t been to England besides perhaps a visit and what she sees in a painting at her rehab facility.  She alludes to being from South Africa even though people are more likely to assume she is from England because she is white.

Race plays a major part of the story and is at the crux of the political scene during Apartheid. But the characters dance around it themselves. They touch on it in a dramatically building dinner scene with their friend Steve (Ariyon Bakare) who is moving to England after a government-imposed ban that is forcing him out of the country. Even as the only black South African character, he is polite and reluctant to delve into the complex racial prejudice and segregation that plagues the country during the time period.

Just as the lead male character has a hard time identifying one particular aloe plant, it is hard to fully identify the characters in the story. They are complicated and even by the story’s end, there is a lot left unexplained. The three-actor cast does a good job at peeling away the layers at the core of their backstories, but we never completely get to the roots.

If the play had continued to be Piet talking about aloes and to his seemingly emotionally, vegetative wife, the play would have been a complete bore. But unanswered questions about the pasts of the characters ultimately maintain our intrigue.

Piet’s fixation on aloes could be seen as representative of the pleasantries that distract from having to talk about racial injustice and issues that are uncomfortable.

But the playright, Fugard, writes about the theme of “drought” in his notes about the play just as the aloes Piet collects are resilient to survive through conditions like drought, according to the playbill. Drought doesn’t have to mean a literal lack of water, but can also symbolize the barren social and cultural nature that comes with being denied basic necessities and the need to survive through all that is taken away. Physical survival, social survival, political survival, you name it.

Just as Piet seeks out aloes to bring home, he does try to help black South Africans in the protests resistant the government segregation that put solely white politicians in power. He nurtures the aloes just like he wants to assist people struggling to survive. Maybe he focuses on the aloes because it distracts himself from realizing he can’t assist people to the extent he wants to. Piet takes the aloes out of their environment and makes a new home for them. But he can’t control the environment of the South African political landscape during Apartheid.

Even when you glean that the play is about Apartheid, it is not abundantly clear how the characters are related to that history and what their role is. It is only hinted at.

For instance we learn the wife is recovering from some sort of mental health episode or break down, but we don’t know exactly why or what she went to through. We hear that she is very upset about police taking her diaries. We don’t know what’s in them or why it’s a big deal. We don’t know why they raided their house. And she also alluded to some sort of mistreatment in how she was handled in her rehabilitation facility, but we never quite find out what happened to her and why she was there.

As a white South African, she too is a native, but she has a different experience than Steven because the color of her skin protects her and historically plays into how she is treated.

Piet is trying so hard to identify the aloes and understand them scientifically because he can’t do the same thing with humans. There is a sense of grappling to understand and classify things, but the play doesn’t even do that for the audience so how can we expect the characters to do so?

There are rumors that there was an informant that led to prison time for Steven and others in their cause, which is not even clearly identified as a protest. People in their circle suspect Piet of being that informant because he is white. When Steven confronts him about it after a lot of prodding from Gladys, who seems to have a more bleak and realistic understanding of what’s going on, Piet owns up to it even though it wasn’t him. When Gladys asks him why, he says because they were going to think it anyway. We never find out who the informant is, but it is a case of how perception can often be reality.

So there is a disconnect between societal labels and judgments placed on people and their actual history. Similarly black South Africans were being vilified for their skin color, when the white people responsible perhaps new nothing about them beyond how they label them.

The first act drags a little bit more than the second because of the two person dynamic, but the intensity goes up when we introduce the Steven and anticipate whether or not he will come to dinner.

Also, there are inconsistencies in Gladys’s behavior that suggest she isn’t stable, so it makes us curious about what’s wrong with her and what her story is. In the beginning she is almost silent and expressionless, but later on she becomes almost manic and paranoid, yet there are periods of joy. But we don’t really find out, so maybe that just goes to show that even if we did know what she was a victim of or what mental health issue she is battling, it doesn’t define her.

Piet is the only really consistent character throughout on an emotional level, throwing himself into the simplicity of classifying aloes as a distraction. Aloe plants are known for their medical traits and ability to soothe and heal, so maybe he is also looking for that comfort.

On the contrary, aloes make Gladys very uncomfortable because of their prickly appearance and she does not understand his fixation on them. Similarly she does not like being classified, so maybe it was the labels she has more problems with then the aloes themselves.

Even though the whole story takes place in one house, the interactions are interesting and most riveting elements of the story lie in what isn’t revealed or explained. Maybe that is reflective how we can’t always know everything there is to know about a person and how history has gaps in the narrative depending on what’s withheld and who’s telling the story.

“A Lesson from Aloes” just closed Sunday at Hartford Stage, but if you ever go to see this play elsewhere, I suggest reading up on the history about it first so you will understand it better.

‘Love Never Dies’: A New Genre of Musical Sequels is Born

Love never dies, unfortunately for everyone in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera” by the same name.
While the production May 29 at the Bushnell was musically phenomenal, the story line – written by Ben Elton and based on Frederick Forsyth’s “The Phantom of Manhattan” – takes some liberties that create a disconnect from its predecessor. For one, apparently soprano opera muse Christine Daae and the Phantom conceived a child together 10 years back even though the only real time they spent together was during her brief abduction.
The new musical, in true opera form, has a love triangle, a woman foolishly enamored with a man who terrorizes her, jealousy, tragedy, and death.
Every character is flawed in a way that, although human, seems inconsistent with the resolution of “Phantom.” The only one who has redeeming qualities is Christian Harmston’s Gustave, Daae’s pure, adorable, and musically gifted son. His voice was clear and beautiful. While he didn’t go for the highest note in the original “Phantom” theme song, he probably could have hit it well.
Meghan Picerno is exquisite and elegant as Daae and she sings with stunning vibrato and power, but this version of Christine is certainly not an icon of female empowerment. You can’t help but see her as weak. Even though the Phantom obsesses over her in a creepily possessive and controlling way, often frightening her, she has deep undying suppressed love for him. Stockholm syndrome maybe? Though, in an era of “me too,” maybe it’s not fair to be so hard on her because she may be a victim, but it’s hard to tell if that’s an intended characterization of her.
Nonetheless, she lacks the purity that makes her so likable in “Phantom.” Raoul (Sean Thompson), who Christine chooses over the Phantom in the original and marries, references her high, expensive standards he can’t live up to, making her sound shallow and materialistic. The only endearing moments for her character are when we see her with her son. Then we see a flicker of the old Christine we know and love with her gentle compassion.
Raoul also loses his appeal in the sequel, no longer the charismatic knight in shining armor who protects Christine like he was in “Phantom.” In “Love Never Dies” he is in debt, largely due to gambling. We also see a very jealous and insecure side of him as he questions whether Christine still loves him. He can be quite nasty and belligerent, drinking his sorrows away into the morning and snapping at bartenders who try to cut him off. Only toward the end when he cradles Christine’s dead body in his arms in tragic tenderness do we see a glimmer of the old, likable Raoul.
Oh, had I not mentioned it before? Again, SPOILER ALERT!
Christine dies! It tarnishes the story and takes away the hopeful escape we see for her and Raoul in the original. It really does kill the notion of a happily ever after — between that and her marriage rut. It doesn’t really seem to add much to the story either. And doesn’t that mean love does die? Maybe the Phantom will love her forever, beyond her death. But we don’t know that. And when he succumbs to his mortality, any remaining essence of their love will vanish from existence.
The only thing it does accomplish story-wise is create a delicate closing moment when her son looks upon the Phantom for the first time as his real father and touches his face as an apparent sign of acceptance. So, maybe the love that never dies is actually a father-son loving bond instead of romance. But is that moment really necessary? Are we really feeling sorry for the Phantom, who is even more of a lamenting, possessive, disturbing stalker type in this sequel? It’s great he now can feel loved by another human despite his deformed appearance and life of seclusion. But was he really looking for that?
Besides, he already experienced that in “Phantom” with Christine. But he clearly didn’t learn something, backsliding further into self-loathing and despair in the sequel. But that despair doesn’t make him a victim. Instead, he has a mystical power over Christine and seems to feel entitled to get what he wants. It’s almost a “Beauty and the Beast” dynamic between him and Christine. However, she can never fully stop being afraid of him and we never seem to see the good beneath his tormenting exterior. The ending almost seems more appropriate to set a movie up for another sequel. But musical sequels are very rare. So I suppose “Love Never Dies” has that going for it.
Also, the way Christine dies, accidentally shot by her old opera friend Meg Giry (Mary Michael Patterson), is far-fetched. We see Meg is pitted against Christine as a competitor. Her mom, the austere Madame Giry (Karen Mason), certainly drills that into her head. Christine inadvertently threatens Meg’s leading lady stardom and position in the Phantom’s Coney Island circus.
However, her character seems kind and compassionate throughout the show and does not seem extremely rattled by Christine’s return or troubled at all. So it’s a leap for her character to kidnap Christine’s son and attempt to throw him into the water to drown before threatening to shoot herself. The only goodness we really see in the Phantom is when he talks her down from her hysteria to save her life. Then, when the gun accidentally goes off and fires a fatal bullet at Christine, she clearly feels sorry for what she did. But she runs off like she’s guilty so that last sequence denies her from being pure of heart and one of the only likable protagonists. We do see human compassion emerge from her mother though when they initially suspect she abducted Gustave and she shows concern before racing to help find him.
“Love Never Dies” maintains the Gothic decadence of “Phantom,” blended with an “American Horror Story: Freak Show” vibe. The circus element was both haunting and fun with many acrobatic interludes and lively sideshow performers.
With that being said the flaws in the story line are not the fault of the cast and the production team. They did very well with what they had to work with, particularly considering how challenging the music of a Webber score can be.
Where the story and characters are lacking, “Love Never Dies” is musically impressive with powerful vocals from Gardar Thor Cortes as the Phantom.

While you can hear a lot of the songs were a strain for Cortes and Thompson (Raoul) in the lower registers as they went a little out of tune, it was miraculous they were able to hit all the notes given the expansive range the music required of them. Nonetheless the two male leads were otherwise strong vocalists, particularly Cortes who really fills the room and sings out over the orchestra. In that regard, you could see how his Phantom would be alluring to Christine despite his demeanor.

While Patterson’s Meg is overshadowed by Christine, her voice is by no means second fiddle. She sounds exquisite and even is very successful at delivering comedy through opera, which is not easy in such a dramatic style of music that requires a lot of serious focus and stamina.

Speaking of stamina, I was blown away by the orchestra and the instrumental precision.  I enjoyed their interludes just as much as the lyrical pieces. It takes one thing for a singer to hit all the notes, rhythm, and expression of a song, but it is even more difficult for multiple instruments played by several different people to attain the same unified accuracy of one person. They breathe life into this production and bring personality to the orchestration.

The songs themselves were very enjoyable to hear. Themes from “Phantom” are woven into the sequel. However there is scarcely a song that proved to be as memorable as an “Angel of Music,” “Music of the Night,” or “The Phantom of the Opera.” I can’t say that there are any songs from this musical that will stick in my head or that I will find myself singing at random. The only one that comes even close is “Love Never Dies,” as the title song should. However, all of the music is beautiful. It is just very hard to surpass a legend in musical history.

Despite the flawed story, the concept of a musical sequel is something unique that I hope to see a Broadway tackle more often.

The set was ornate, the make up was beautiful, and the show was ultimately very well cast.

He is still here, the Phantom of the opera. And we do still want to hear him sing as horrible as he may be as a human. Can we expect another sequel about the bond between him and his newfound son? I implore Webber to do something unprecedented – a musical trilogy.

While “Love Never Dies” has moved on from The Bushnell, the fabulous lineup continues. Next up is “On Your Feet,” the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. More information about tickets and upcoming productions are available at