Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

On Your Feet!
The Phoenix Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook

Adam James King and Kassandra Haddock
Photo by Reg Madison Photography
While there have been numerous jukebox musicals that feature the songs of an artist, band or composer that use an original and fictional story, there have also been many that focus on the factual backstage and onstage careers of the recording artists set against their famous tunes. One of the most recent examples of these shows, On Your Feet!, tells the interesting story of Latin crossover artists Gloria and Emilio Estefan and features more than two dozen songs from their varied catalog. It's an energetic musical with many upbeat songs but it is also an intimate and honest drama of the story of these beloved artists. The emotional impact of the characters and the ups and downs in their rise to fame comes off extremely well in the Phoenix Theatre Company's local premiere production of this crowd-pleasing show. The intimacy of The Phoenix Theatre venue, an exceptional cast and ensemble, and clear direction provide a toe-tapping and emotionally impactful good time.

The plot focuses on how Emilio and Gloria, who were both born in Cuba, met in Miami and joined forces to become one of the best-selling crossover artists in pop music. Alexander Dinelaris' book is a fairly by-the-numbers tale as it touches on the highs and lows in their rise to fame. These moments include how reluctant Gloria was at first to join Emilio's band and how her mother was against her trying for a musical career since she had already started studying for a career in psychology. Fortunately, Gloria's caring grandmother encouraged her on. The high work ethic and drive of the couple as well as their desire to cross over to the English-speaking music market, only to face resistance from their record label, are also touched upon as are the well-known tour bus accident that left Gloria with a spinal cord injury and a broken back and her comeback performance at the 1991 American Music Awards.

The book is quite good in interweaving moments and characters from Gloria's past to drive home the emotion in the story while also highlighting the struggles the couple faced along their journey to fame, including the constant negativity and stubbornness of Gloria's mother. While many people may remember the March 1990 bus accident and Gloria's comeback performance just 10 months later, they may not be aware of the fact that both Gloria and Emilio's families had to escape from Cuba or that her father fought in Vietnam and suffered from multiple sclerosis and that the tense relationship with Gloria's mother resulted in them not speaking to each other for several years.

While those lesser-known facts are all additive to the story, there isn't much new that this show adds to what we've already seen in other backstage rags to riches story, and there are a few important supporting characters whose deaths are treated almost as an afterthought. Fortunately, though Emilio and Gloria were behind the creation of the show and also served as one of the Broadway production's main producers, they don't sugarcoat their story or the struggles they faced, including the issues with Gloria's mother and the blame over the accident that almost took Gloria's life, and they also don't have an issue with making fun of themselves, including how Emilio is depicted as a fast-talking, heavily accented man who is often hard to understand. The show wisely uses the upbeat pop songs for performance numbers, while the well-known ballads are used for the dramatic moments and to depict the inner feelings and thoughts of the characters, with the lyrics sounding natural and fitting perfectly into the characters' voices.

The Phoenix Theatre Company's production has a wonderful cast who deliver winning performances under Pasha Yamotahari's crisp and sharp direction which perfectly plays up the humor while also ensuring the emotional moments are never shortchanged. Yamotahari's staging keeps the show briskly moving along and the choreography by Sergio Mejia (with assistance from Nick Flores) is energetic, varied, bright, and well-danced by the a cast who deliver warm and soaring vocals under Alan J. Plado's music direction.

Kassandra Haddock and Adam James King deliver warm and winning performances that are energetic, charismatic, and realistic as Gloria and Emilio, respectively. They both have beautiful singing voices and make excellent acting choices to realistically portray the drive and determination the couple had to succeed, the importance of family, and the love they have for each other. As Gloria's disapproving mother, Karmine Alers is a force of nature that very few would dare to cross. Her solo is exceptionally sung and danced and the duet she shares with King, the one new song written for the show, "I Never Got to Tell You," is a moving number infused with emotion.

Radiating warmth and a huge heart, Maria Amorocho is wonderful as Gloria's grandmother; Adriel Garcia perfectly evokes the importance of family as Gloria's father; and Daniela Delahuerta, Petra Milan Danek, and Zach Thompson do good work as Gloria's sister Rebecca, and younger versions of Gloria and Emilio, respectively. D. Scott Withers adds depth to what could have been an assortment of stereotypical supporting roles, including Emilio and Gloria's skeptical agent. The members of the ensemble play numerous roles and deliver the abundant and varied choreography with ease.

Robert Kovach's scenic design uses several panels with cutouts of palm trees and colorful lighting from Daniel Davisson to depict both the architecture and warm climates of Miami and Cuba, with the panels sliding on and off stage to take us back and forth between the two main locations in the show as well as the various times in the story. Davisson's lighting comes alive during the performance numbers which make the Phoenix Theatre's Main Stage transform into a rock concert venue. The period and character perfect costumes from Maci Hosler, and the hair and makeup from Kelly Yurko, effectively portray the show's 1980s styles. Dave Temby's sound design delivers clear vocal and crisp notes from the exceptional onstage band.

On Your Feet! may be a typical entry in the backstage rags to riches jukebox musical format, but with over a dozen well-known, chart-topping hits from Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, including "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," "Conga," "1-2-3," "On Your Feet," and "Anything For You," it is a hugely entertaining show. With an exceptional cast and wonderful creative elements, The Phoenix Theatre's production is not only a crowd-pleaser but also a beautiful portrayal of the love between Gloria and Emilio Estefan and the battles they had to overcome to become one of the top recording artists of all time.

On Your Feet! runs through August 28, 2022, at the Phoenix Theatre Company, 1825 N Central Avenue, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 602-254-2151.

Book by Alexander Dinelaris
Featuring Music Produced and Recorded by Emilio Estefan, Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine
Director/Musical Staging: Pasha Yamotahari
Musical Director: Alan J. Plado
Choreographer: Sergio Mejia
Asst. Choreographer: Nick Flores
Scenic Designer: Robert Kovach
Lighting Designer: Daniel Davisson
Costume Designer: Maci Hosler
Sound Designer: Dave Temby
Hair + Makeup Designer: Kelly Yurko
Properties Master: Sarah Harris
Dialect Coach: Elisa Gonzales
Director of Production: Karla Frederick
Company Manager/Associate Production Manager: Tyler Welden
Stage Manager: Samantha Monson *
Asst. Stage Manager: Katherine Roll Lang*

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Gloria Fajardo: Karmine Alers*
Consuelo: Maria Amorocho*
Warren, Ensemble (Phil et al understudy): Matravius Avent*
Dance Ensemble: Tarnim Bybee
Young Emilio/Nayib: Luke Chester
Little Gloria: Petra Milan Danek
Rebecca, Ensemble (Gloria understudy): Daniela Delahuerta
Dance Ensemble: EJ Dohring*
Ensemble: Lina G. Forero
Jose, Ensemble: Adriel Garcia*
Gloria: Kassandra Haddock*
Emilio: Adam James King*
Dance Ensemble (Jose understudy): Grant Latus
Dance Ensemble: Alessandro J. López *
Dance Ensemble: Veronica Quezada
Little Gloria: Anna Scales
Old Man & Ensemble (Emilio & Jose understudy): Adam Tabellija*
Young Emilio/Nayib: Zach Thompson
Dance Ensemble, Dance Captain (Gloria Fajardo understudy): Justine Vasquez*
Phil, Ensemble: D. Scott Withers*
Ensemble Swing: Hannah Brudnock
Ensemble Swing: Leonel Gallegos
Dance Ensemble Swing: Cheyenne Omani
Dance Ensemble Swing: Alexandro Partida
Consuelo understudy: Sonia Rodriguez Wood

* Members of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the U.S.