Photo – Johan Persson
Musicals celebrating the story of popular music acts are two a penny these days, and they vary in quality from enjoyable to absolutely dire. They pull in the fans of the stars depicted, and sometimes have reasonable dramatic structure. They fill theatres with music fans who may not be able to see their favourite performers who no longer grace our concert halls in their original form. And we all get old – hard to belt out the passionate anthems of youth when you are at bus-pass age.
This week’s offering at Norwich Theatre Royal looks at the career of Gloria and Emilio Estefan. It tells nicely if rather simply of how a Cuban refugee family created one of the top selling artistes in America. It is a pleasant production with a sparkling cast who throw all their energy into the performance, with many dance numbers and some soulful ballads. If you are a fan of Gloria Estefan there is little that could disappoint you in this show.
Gloria is played with great energy and style by Philippa Stefani, with George Ioannides as Emilio. Karen Mann adds much humour to the show as Gloria’s indomitable grandma Consuela, who helps to drive her granddaughter to stardom, while Madalena Alberto plays Gloria’s mother, who seems to do nothing but place obstacles in her way. The tension between mother and daughter provides the only real dark side to much of this enjoyable but bland show. The seven strong band are on stage throughout, and give a powerful and passionate performance of the twenty one songs that fill this busy musical, with other performers including the leads taking up instruments for some tunes. Philippa Stefani has a great singing voice and gives us a very convincing insight into the driven life of Gloria Estefan.
Early in their career the Estefans faced racism and exclusion from the American music industry, but triumphed with some undeniably banging tunes that got everyone on their feet. Consequently it is no surprise that their dramatised biography concentrated on their attempts to fit in, and the tensions that this can create in any first generation diaspora family. While this is an important insight into American culture it does not make for high drama. It gives us a show that is safe, warm and comfortable but not really memorable. If you are an Estefan fan you will love it, if not you will be introduced to one of the better pop-tune creating couples and their back stories.
© Julian Swainson 2019
On Your Feet is at Norwich Theatre Royal until 23rd November. For more info or to BOOK ONLINE www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk