Broadway: On Your Feet & School of Rock
Gloria soars and kids rock
After seeing a spate of either dreadful or plodding plays, some with plot lines that seemed pointless, others that were produced for shock value, and then some where you just questioned why it was even mounted on Broadway, I am happy to report that there are a number of really strong musicals that have opened on the Great White Way.
Both On Your Feet! and School of Rock are high energy and high spirited and feature exceptionally talented young performers.
On Your Feet! is the story of Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s relationship and how they became forces of nature in the music business, promoting Gloria’s amazing voice and personality all along the way. Beginning with her humble start in life in Miami, by way of Cuba, we see Gloria as the young caretaker of her ailing father while always looking out for her sister. She had a beautiful voice as a child that matured into a great pop voice as an adult.
We all remember that signature Gloria sound. It has a lovely low tone infused with a great deal of warmth. The actors who portray young Gloria and the older Gloria both have those very special Gloria Estefan qualities. They are vocal matches for the real Gloria Estefan.
Ana Villafane, in her Broadway debut, stars as Gloria. Ana not only sounds like her, she looks like her, and young Gloria played by Alexandria Suarez is also a stunning match as a 10 year old Gloria. Josh Segarra is the determined, smitten Emilio who will stop at nothing to get Gloria to sing in his band, and eventually become his wife. He battles record company executives to be heard and promoted. Andrea Burns plays Gloria’s mother and finely executes the troubled yet loving relationship that they experienced. Alma Cuervo is the nurturing grandmother, and pint sized Eduardo Hernandez, who plays a number of roles, is a standout. He is a winner of the 2014 Latin Dance Cup and semifinalist on “America’s Got Talent.” Wow.
You can’t argue with the songs that Gloria and Emilio Estefan and The Miami Sound Machine performed and produced, with the catchy music, the Latin beat, and the inspirational lyrics.
Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo and directed by Jerry Mitchell, with book by Alexander Dinelaris and music, of course, by Emilio and Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine, On Your Feet! is a musical that will make you feel good and want to dance at the same time.
Now talk about high energy and astounding kids performing in a show. School of Rock takes that concept and brings it even further. Along with the kids, there is the super talented star Alex Brightman who plays Dewey, looking like a younger version of Jack Black, who was featured in the film. Alex pulls off a mixture of humor, high level performance, and even sexy schlumpiness as a kind of out of shape loser who just wants to play rock and roll. Alex simply owns the stage. All of it, as he runs around on all corners throughout the entire performance. I am not sure how he does not collapse at the end of every show. I mean, I am talking uber high energy.
The premise is simple. With no money in the bank and no job, an adult Dewey crashes at his long-time buddy’s home and picks up a call intended for his friend. It seems a school needs a substitute teacher. When Dewey hears the pay, he takes the job. Once there, he discovers that the kids have musical talent, and transforms them into a rock band. Buttoned up, prim and proper headmistress Rosalie (Sierra Boggess) is wary of this new sub teacher, and scolds him constantly, until she has a transformation and sees Dewey in a different light. The story is incredibly predictable, (even if you haven’t seen the film) but it’s the music and the kids playing the instruments, as well as Alex Brightman’s high voltage performance, that is the headline here. Yes, as Andrew Lloyd Webber states in a recorded announcement at the top of the show, the young actors are really playing those instruments. A keyboardist, drummer, guitar player and bass player are really that young age and truly have the chops to play. And then there is the soaring voice of one little girl. Pretty astounding.
With book by Julian Fellowes, lyrics by Glenn Slater and music by Sir Lloyd Webber, this is another show that will get you on your feet. School of Rock is choreographed by JoAnn M. Hunter and directed by Laurence Connor.
Once you go, be prepared for the song “Stick it To The Man” to become an earworm and stick with you for a very long time.