Gloria Estefan's life, music give rise to 'On Your Feet!'

  • Emilio and Gloria Estefan pose with actors Ana Villafañe and Josh Segarra at a May 19 news conference. Villafañe and Segarra will star as the Latin-crossover power pop duo in the Broadway-bound jukebox musical "On Your Feet!" The world premiere production plays the Oriental Theatre in Chicago from Tuesday, June 2, through Sunday, July 5.

      Emilio and Gloria Estefan pose with actors Ana Villafañe and Josh Segarra at a May 19 news conference. Villafañe and Segarra will star as the Latin-crossover power pop duo in the Broadway-bound jukebox musical "On Your Feet!" The world premiere production plays the Oriental Theatre in Chicago from Tuesday, June 2, through Sunday, July 5. Scott C. Morgan | Staff Photographer

  • Actor Ana Villafañe, left, portrays Gloria Estefan while Josh Segarra portrays Emilio Estefan in the world premiere Broadway-bound musical "On Your Feet!" at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago from Tuesday, June 2, through Sunday, July 5.

    Actor Ana Villafañe, left, portrays Gloria Estefan while Josh Segarra portrays Emilio Estefan in the world premiere Broadway-bound musical "On Your Feet!" at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago from Tuesday, June 2, through Sunday, July 5. Courtesy of Bruce Glikas

  • Singer Gloria Estefan is pictured in 1991 after finishing her first song, "Get On Your Feet," in Miami while kicking off her "Into The Light -- World Tour" concert. The moment occurred nearly a year after Estefan's back was broken in a 1990 touring bus accident.

    Singer Gloria Estefan is pictured in 1991 after finishing her first song, "Get On Your Feet," in Miami while kicking off her "Into The Light -- World Tour" concert. The moment occurred nearly a year after Estefan's back was broken in a 1990 touring bus accident. Associated Press, 1991

  • Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio Estefan flank Jerry Mitchell, center, who is directing "On Your Feet!" which premieres in Chicago for a pre-Broadway run.

    Gloria Estefan and her husband Emilio Estefan flank Jerry Mitchell, center, who is directing "On Your Feet!" which premieres in Chicago for a pre-Broadway run. Courtesy of Jenny Anderson

  • Producer Emilio Estefan, left, is portrayed by Josh Segarra, right, while singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan, second from left, is portrayed by Ana Villafañe in the world premiere Broadway-bound musical "On Your Feet!" at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago. It runs from Tuesday, June 2, through Sunday, July 5.

    Producer Emilio Estefan, left, is portrayed by Josh Segarra, right, while singer-songwriter Gloria Estefan, second from left, is portrayed by Ana Villafañe in the world premiere Broadway-bound musical "On Your Feet!" at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago. It runs from Tuesday, June 2, through Sunday, July 5. Courtesy of Bruce Glikas

 
 
Updated 6/3/2015 11:24 AM

Cuban-American singer/songwriter Gloria Estefan is amazed and slightly unnerved by the sheer number of coincidences and close personal connections tied to the creation of the Broadway-bound jukebox musical "On Your Feet!"

Featuring a score of Latin-crossover pop hits created by the Grammy Award-winning Estefan and the band The Miami Sound Machine, "On Your Feet!" theatrically retells Estefan's life story with her producer-husband, Emilio. It begins a five-week world premiere engagement at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago on Tuesday, June 2.

 

"They've been all over -- really crazy connections," said Estefan. "There's too many to count."

Nonetheless, she shared these tidbits:

• Cuban-American actress Ana Villafañe, who plays Gloria in the musical, attended Estefan's same Catholic high school of Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in South Miami.

"What I love about it is that the girl who plays me is the height that people think I am," said Estefan, who at 5-feet-2 is about four inches shorter than Villafañe.

• "On Your Feet!" book writer Alexander Dinelaris, who was part of the Academy Award-winning writing team for the film "Birdman," shares a birthday of March 20, the same snowy day in 1990 when Estefan suffered a spinal fracture in an accident when a semi truck struck her tour bus near Scranton, Pennsylvania.

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• "On Your Feet!" associate director Andy Senior Jr., who is assisting two-time Tony Award-winning director Jerry Mitchell and Olivier Award-winning choreographer Sergio Trujillo, shares a personal history with Estefan's family long before they immigrated to the U.S. when she was 2 years old.

"(Senior's) father in Cuba lived next to my mom and the day that my mother's water broke (when she was pregnant with me), Andy's father was helping her up the stairs to be able to grab her stuff to go to the hospital," said Estefan. "This is how freakish these connections ... are in this play."

But the deepest connections, perhaps, are to the songs. Hits like "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," "Conga" and "1-2-3" appear in the show, along with new music penned by the Estefans.

"Everybody in the cast has some story relating one of my songs to one of the moments in their lives," Estefan said. "It's very affirming and heartwarming."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

No doubt "On Your Feet!" producers are hoping that audiences also relate to the songs and will make the show a hit as they learn about the Estefans' back story. Mining the song catalogs and life stories of other artists made hits out of "Jersey Boys" and "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical."

"Remember, it's not just me singing these songs. It's not a Gloria Estefan concert," said Estefan, noting that the way Dinelaris has slotted in songs to dramatize Estefan's close family members and other life events has repeatedly moved her to tears.

In addition to coproducing "On Your Feet!" through their company, Estefan Enterprises, Inc., the Estefans are deeply involved with the creation. They're aiming to maintain a Latin authenticity for the show in the same way that they resisted outside industry pressures in the late 1980s and early '90s to make their music more "mainstream" for American audiences.

"The team we have is possibly one of the best," said Emilio Estefan at a recent news conference. "Being able to say that we didn't have to change our names, change our sound to succeed and hopefully now to achieve a dream of reaching Broadway."

Gloria Estefan is especially proud of the fact that seven Miami Sound Machine members are playing in the orchestra for "On Your Feet!"

"Authenticity is the one thing that we have really striven for from day one," she said. "In the story, our personal story, our immigrant story and our music story."

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