The Estefans—déjà vu !

Posted on June 12, 2019 by John Bailey

MARIA BILBAO AND JOSE LUACES (UPFRONT) BRING BACK GLORIA AND THE BEAT AT WBT’S SEXY, SALSALICIOUS, SAMBAMAD CONGARAMA, ON YOUR FEET

White Plains CitizeNetReporter  STAGE DOOR. Theatrical Review by John F. Bailey. June 12, 2019:

You can’t tell them apart.  You can’t hear them apart.

Who are the real Estefans?

Gloria and Emilio Estefan–1980s

Or these Estefans?—The delicious Maria Bilbao, the  swashbuckling Jose Luaces–2019  Photos, John Vechiola, courtesy WBT

Together they bring back the breakthrough Latin entertainers of the 80s Gloria and Emilio Estefan who took the world of sound based on their native Cuba and sold out concerts throughout the world as they broke through to be the first latin superstar singers.

The alchemists of entertainment  Director Donna Drake, Choreographer Rhonda Miller  and Producer Lisa Tiso  at Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford, NY USA have done it again: telling the Estefans’ courageous and uplifting story and performing their music – bringing back the Broadway hit of 2015, and getting Westchester salsa-ing  again, clapping  to the conga, disco-ing to Dr. Beat, and moving to energetic sambaizations. It’s The Miami Sound Machine and their amazing story. Cuban refugees fleeing from the Castro regime to international stardom only to be struck by tragedy and coming back.

Ms.  Bilbao and Mr. Luaces “chem” it up in this real love story that has lasted 40 years (they are still married). From Gloria’s first song, Anything  for You (he’s too old for her, but he’s hooked). As the romance weaves between performances of Miami Sound Machine it grows–the two duet their mutual attraction in such a young lovers’ duet you will remember, I See Your Smile.

Maria Bilbao bringing the house down with her Coming Out of the Dark big song in Act II

Throughout Ms. Bilbao (above)  gets  deep and high into the Gloria Estafan style: holding the notes long and plaintively on the ballads; athleticism  in fast spins, leaps , long arms reaching  for the spots, and swiveling hips with boundless energy while singing at the same time in “Gloria-ous”continuity.

 Her colorata-mezzo soprano the deep intimate sound of commitment and regret and assurance, and rises to the emotions of unbearably sad and joyous feeling. She covers the Malacon.

Gloria’s father’s illness thought to have been caused by his service in the Vietnam war,  makes him an invalid is tastefully and uplifting portrayed and the sacrifices it requires.  Isabella Prestion and Camila Sander are the charismatic little girls who sing of their love for their father, singing  Cuando Sali De Cuba (When I left Cuba), and Tradicio’n. Young aspiring actresses will identify with these two young ladies.

I liked Byron St. Cyr as Gloria’s father (above) who establishes just-right  father-daughter traditions that all we fathers of daughters experience, his missing her when he goes to fight in Cuba, and his declining health after his Vietnam stint show the bonds between daughter and father.

Gloria’s mother played with every bit of assertiveness as Gloria herself, Karmine Alers  flashes back to her stardom in Cuba, and this causes jealousy  on the part of the mother and Gloria the daughter’s growing success. Mom does not want her to marry Emilio.

Allers shows just how good she was in the number Mi Tierra. Allers is so good at spats with Gloria over where Gloria is going with her life and how it hurts the family, that it brings home everyone’s family dramas and conflicts and makes the motivations very real, highlighting the dramatics.

This musical is about family and all that goes with it. The songs all by Gloria Estefan and Emilio Estefan come out of their life experience. That’s why the songs hit home and won an international following.

The first act wraps with the breakthrough hit Conga at a make or break concert in a park attracting thousands in Miami that Emilio conceived as a way of breaking their music into the main stream and leading to their star tours abroad. Mr. Luaces is strong in his negotiating scenes with record executives who claim the Miami Sound Machine is only for the latin audience.

Second Act the  arc of their careers soars. The awesome  effects of a concert given by Gloria and Emilio Estefan are rendered as well as possible at WBT, but Ms. Bilbao and Mr. Luaces more than overwhelm the enthusiastic press night audience with  Conga, Get On Your Feet, Live for Loving You and You’ll Be Mine. Then the famous Kennedy Concert where Gloria sings Cuba Libre.  As conflict grows as the tours continue Gloria and her mother are in conflict over what is happening with her own little sister.

As the group goes on the road on a bus tour, Gloria’s life is changed when at the top of their growing popularity their bus is hit by a truck. Gloria is paralyzed. Is this the end? Of course we know it is not. The staging of the accident comes as a complete surprise with one of the great effects Set Designer Steve Loftus and Light man Andrew Gmoser—so real you think the truck is going to hit the audience. It made me start in fear.

This crisis is a teachable moment. How quickly life as you know it can turn on a twist of fate. 

Karmine Alers, Gloria’s mother and Emilio (Mr. Luaces) combine on the plaintive,  If I Never Get to Tell You sung to an unconscious Gloria as she awaits surgery.  Gloria’s memories flash by as she, herself as a little girl, her father Jose and the ensemble sing of her past in Wrapped.

Through the long recovery of a year, Emilio (Luaces) sings  Don’t Wanna Lose You with a sincerity and a will that transmits in my opinion the will to fight to come back.

Does she come back? She does with her return to the stage at the American Music Awards, singing Coming Out of the Dark.

Having seen On Your Feet during its Broadway run, this revival brings you much closer to the people who lived this rousing, uplifting human drama of self-made success, comflict, adversity through their devotion to each other.

The Broadway On Your Feet thrilled with its booming colorful, astounding pace and special effects and left you with your body throbbing to the beat and delivering the signature of the Estefans’ musical legacy.

The Westchester Broadway Theatre  extravaganza entertains and puts you up close in the midst of  personal drama inspiring you, feeling  the emotions in a very caring way. The final Megamixextravagant finale will have you jumpin’ and longing for Havana. Be careful on those one foot spins!

The musicians all 11 of them just fill the theatre with the Miami Sound Machine style that gets into you when it first took the world by beat. Ole’s to Bob Bray, Jessica Glover, David Dunaway, Brian Uhl, Steve Bliefuss, David Shoup, Crispian Fordham, Jay Mack, Carlos Padon, Yuri Yamashita, you’re ready to go on tour!

This is how family should be. On Your Feet is in every sense a family musical. With the Estefans it’s always been each other and family.

You should try the Cuban Pork dinner before hand with black beans. On Your Feet the intimate, booming, up-close and personal Estafans will be at the WBT until August 4.  Go to www.BroadwayTheatre.com  or call the box office at 914-592-2222.

There is one line from this show that really says it all. When Mr. Luaces is negotiating with a CBS producer who tells him they are only Spanish market recording artists, Luaces is silent. He looks him in the eye and touches his own face and says:

“This is the face of an American.”

On Your Feet  is an American musical by Americans for Americans.

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