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High energy ON YOUR FEET brings Broadway to Buffalo

THE BASICS:  ON YOUR FEET, “The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical,” beginning its national tour after technical rehearsals in Buffalo, presented by Shea’s and Albert Nocciolino, directed by Jerry Mitchell runs through September 30. Sunday 9/24 at both 2:00 p.m. and 7,Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30Friday and 8, with a final show Saturday afternoon,September 30 at 2:00. Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St. (1-800-745-3000) Full service bar, refreshment stands with coffee, cookies, and champagne. Two and half hours with one intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  In a poor Cuban family, Grandma sees the chance for her grand-daughter Gloria to realize the life that was denied her own daughter and encourages young Gloria to start singing with a local band. In Latino culture “family comes first,” but how that is realized makes this musical about Gloria and her husband Emilio Estefan what it is. The music and dancing are first rate with that crisp split-second timing that makes Broadway shows so exciting.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: When you first arrive, you are met with an enormous, shimmering blue curtain and stacks and stacks and even more stacks of speakers. This is going to be LOUD, but the ten-person band (playing real instruments, not just synthesizers) is so tight that it never gets uncomfortable. And when bassist Jorge Casas (along with 3 other members of the original Miami Sound Machine) thumps, and it goes right through you, it’s a moment that you have to experience live.

Christie Prades and Mauricio Martinez (“nice culo” says Abuela) as Gloria and Emilio are high energy and convincing. Even more convincing in her role is Alma Cuervo (from the original Broadway cast) as Grandma. What a hoot. You’ll love her. In their roles as mom and dad, the sandwich generation, are Nancy Ticotin and Jason Martinez, experienced actors who know how to tug at the heartstrings. Four cute show-biz kids alternate performances as young Gloria and various utility roles.

And then there are the dancers. Wow. They are not all at the same high level, but there are four principal male dancers whose moves were unbelievably crisp and who had something you usually don’t see on stage: guns of steel.

Why not? Physics lesson: When a dancer spins, he tries to compact his body to reduce the distance between the axis of rotation and some of his mass, reducing the moment of inertia. So, typically, faster spins and leaps and other balletic moves are best accomplished by skinny guys without a lot of upper body muscle mass. But these guys in ON YOUR FEET were muy machoto the delight of the audience, on either side of the aisle.

The set projections were good and consistent and implied a location rather than providing super-in-your-face-realism. However, I found the moving furniture creepy as beds and couches glided off stage of their own volition and on two occasions for no good reason. Grandma sitting on the couch during Gloria’s audition could have stayed on stage as she sang and so could the bed in which Gloria’s father lay dying as she sings a duet with his spirit. His slow departure stage right was unnerving, to say the least.

I’d heard Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine’s hits on the radio, but I really didn’t know who they were. And I spoke with at least one other curmudgeon who also went in with a “show me” attitude and came out a believer. ON YOUR FEET is a good show, but remember that it’s closing soon and on a weird time and day – Saturday September 30 at 2:00 p.m. – so don’t be caught short.

Next up for the Shea’s group of theaters will be the return of MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL to Shea’s 710 Theater (the old Studio Arena) up from Tuesday, October 10 through Sunday October 15.

And the next big production on the Shea’s main stage will be THE BODYGUARD, the 2012 stage musical written by Alexander Dinelaris, based on the 1992 film “The Bodyguard,” which starred the late Whitney Houston. With songs including “One Moment in Time,” “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and Whitney’s cover version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” it runs from October 24 through October 29.

Rating:  Four Buffalos

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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