One of the signature sounds wafting over the radio in the 1980s was the salsa rhythms of the Miami Sound Machine. Never before had an English-language band had such a Latin flair; their beats were as infection as avian flu. The catalogue is impressive: “1-2-3,” “Anything for You,” “Coming Out of the Dark,” “Don’t Wanna Lose You,” “Get On Your Feet,” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” “Turn the Beat Around” and, of course, “Conga.”
“I hope Gloria likes that song, cuz she’s gonna be singin’ it the rest of her life!” cracks a record producer in On Your Feet, the jukebox musical based on the music of Miami Sound Machine and its founders, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, now at Fair Park Music Hall for about the next two weeks. Ever since Jersey Boys, turning pop music songbooks into stage musicals based on the lives of the artists have spread like a man’s leg on a subway: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Motown: The Musical, The Boy from Oz (Peter Allen), Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, Fela!, A Night with Janis Joplin, Million Dollar Quartet and more. The songs variously are shoehorned in to advance the plot or just as performance numbers, but the point is to end the night — say it with me — on your feet.
On Your Feet is just as lively an colorful as its source music. You could get arthritic tapping you toe so much. Of course, it sacrifices historical accuracy in favor of big emotional points (if any members of the band other than Gloria had names, they aren’t mentioned here), but it’s actually a very schmaltzy love story in the best possible way. The supporting cast are all energetic, but the two leader carry it. Christie Prades captures Gloria Estefan’s warm, brandywine contralto and as Mauricio Martinez play him, you’d think Emilio was nothing more than a sincere, guileless immigrant instead of the savvy manager he clearly was. But once again, who care. It overflows with charm and nostalgia.
— Arnold Wayne Jones