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 www.bushnell.org.