Theatre review - On Your Feet, Palace Theatre Manchester
PUBLISHED: 15:58 30 October 2019 | UPDATED: 17:40 30 October 2019
On Your Feet kept me in my seat, says Kate Houghton
I was there, back in the day, when the latin beats of Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine filled the airwaves and provided a significant chunk of the soundtrack to my teenage years. No other band had the immediate impact that they did, with the sheer joy of the music pouring though the radio and into my life. It was glorious and huge and required an immediate increase in volume. So when I heard that Gloria and Estefan were collaborating on a musical of their life, I was pretty excited. I was even more excited waiting in my seat for the show to start and when it did, with a reveal of a live band and salsa dancers giving it their all, I thought I was in for something special - and then I wasn't, really.
It's not the cast that's at fault - they are all excellent, particularly Philippa Stefani, who plays Gloria. Her voice soars out over the music and brings it to brilliant life. Also excellent was Madalena Alberto, in her role as Gloria's mother, who not only delivers scary Latin mother really well, but gives a fabulous performance as a singer in a Cuban jazz club, on the night they fled to America. Her ambition and fire has been tamped down low by the difficulties of life in the USA, but this results in a powerful, intense Indeed Karen Mann gives a fabulous performance as Gloria's grandmother, Consuelo, bringing shots of humour and light to an otherwise often dark show.
What I was hoping for was more of the buzz and thrill of the music that made her name. Even prior to the big crossover hits of the 80s there were ten years of hits from their massive success in Latin America. Instead, we get a story told with no flow - there's no sense of a build-up, no feeling that we're moving faster and faster towards a powerful close. There's a song, then there's lots of serious storytelling that immediately brings the mood back down to earth, and sometimes with a clumsy bump.
It's a huge shame, because the biopic jukebox genre can be done really, really well. I would go back and see Beautiful, the Carole King story, like a shot. I loved every minute of Dusty, the story of Dusty Springfield's rise, fall and brief resurrection. It's just that the storytelling seems to have been given precedence over the music, and without the music, nobody would be interested in the story anyway.
Perhaps my expectations were too high. Maybe I had invested too much in what could be, and so was always destined for disappointment. But I wasn't alone, this I know, judging by the way the audience climbed slowly to its feet for the closing numbers. One thing I can thank the show for though - I have now downloaded some of my favourite Gloria Estefan songs and can re-live a little of my youth in the privacy of my home home, dancing in the bedroom, with nobody to see, just as I did before.