BILLBOARD: Gloria Estefan and ‘On Your Feet!’ Visit the ‘Billboard on Broadway’ Series

By Rebecca Milzoff

For nearly two years now, On Your Feet! — the vibrant musical telling the story of Gloria Estefan’s life and career through her songs — has thoroughly entertained Broadway audiences.  Recently, a few of the show’s stars came to the Billboard office to perform selections from the show, introduced by none other than Estefan herself.

The show’s title comes from Estefan’s 1989 hit “Get On Your Feet,” which star Ana Villafañe performs backed by a band Estefan calls “a mini-Miami Sound Machine.” “Emilio and I have continuously had to get on our feet,” Estefan shares of her long journey to fame with her husband’s support and tenacity. “We left our country, Cuba, and had to make a new home in the United States, and each time they told us nothing would happen and we wouldn’t be a success, we’d stick to our guns and keep our sound out there.” After the 1990 tour bus accident that left her severely injured, the song took on new meaning for Estefan. “It became this anthem for me,” she says.

The next song, “Mi Tierra” – performed by Doreen Montalvo, who plays Estefan’s mother in the show – shares a name with the first all-Spanish album Estefan and her husband made. “Emilio and I always wanted to do something very roots-oriented in our music, but we were pretty much at the top of our pop game when we told our record company we wanted to do an album entirely in Spanish,” she recalls. “The first reaction: ‘You’re crazy!’”

But as Estefan says, she had a clear idea of the music she wanted to make: something evoking the 1940s, made with top Cuban musicians, evoking the feeling of the songs she would play for her grandmother as a kid. “We wanted to make people feel nostalgic,” she says of the album, explaining that “Mi Tierra” is a song for anyone “longing for [their] homeland.”

Villafañe is joined by her Broadway Emilio, Ektor Rivera, for the final number, “Wrapped,” from the album Unwrapped, which Estefan calls “the album that most reflects me as a songwriter.” The number occurs after Estefan’s accident in the show, when she’s in surgery in an “altered state” and sees the people in her life who have passed away along with those who still wait for her on earth. “I wanted Ana at the beginning to just be alone on the stage and sing this song very quietly, so people could really listen to the lyrics,” Estefan says. Later, as Villafañe and Rivera duet in Spanish, it “explodes into a celebration of dance and happiness.”

On Your Feet! is currently playing at the Marquis Theatre.

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