Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical 'On Your Feet!' Feted: "This Is What an American Looks Like"
"How did [Alex Dinerlaris] write words that are more relevant today than they were then, with demagogues spewing racism and bigotry?" said producer Bernie Yuman, referencing Donald Trump.
Broadway audiences customarily clap after musical numbers, but one line has repeatedly triggered spontaneous applause in On Your Feet!, the new musical about groundbreaking performer Gloria Estefan and her producer-musician husband Emilio Estefan.
In the show, when the two Miami Sound Machine members present a demo of their first English-language song, "Dr. Beat," to a record label executive, they're told a crossover from the Latin market is impossible. "You're not back home anymore," the exec tells them. "So you don't make the rules."
Emilio then stands close to the executive's face and says, "Look at my face — whether you know it or not, this is what an American looks like."
"That actually happened to me," Emilio recalled to The Hollywood Reporter at the show's opening on Thursday. "I said, 'You know what? This is what you're gonna get.' "
"They kept telling us, 'Your sound won't work, this is not your country, change your name, take out the horns, take out the percussion,'" Gloria Estefan explained. "We wanted to succeed with who we were, because if you succeed, you're gonna be doing it the rest of your life, so you better like it! Emilio said, 'We are Americans. Our home country is still part of us, but we love this country.'"
The onstage moment seems to resonate further in light of Donald Trump's recent comments that most undocumented immigrants from Mexico are criminals. Just the day before opening night, nearly 70 prominent Hispanic figures condemned the presidential candidate through an open letter, and multiple Latino community advocacy groups protested his upcoming Saturday Night Live hosting stint at 30 Rockefeller Center, located just blocks away from the Marquis Theatre.
However, book writer Alexander Dinelaris, who won an Oscar as co-screenwriter of Birdman, said he wrote that line two years ago, "well before Donald Trump helped me out! It's just in the forefront now, with this election. You write the truth, and we were lucky enough to have timing be our friend here," he smiled. "It's the small, passive-aggressive phrases that hurt. I just wrote from my heart, and to hear the audience clap in that scene makes me the happiest person, every single night."
Producer Bernie Yuman can barely believe the script's serendipity: "I asked Alex, 'How did you write words that are more relevant today than they were then, with demagogues spewing racism and bigotry, with a better relationship between Cuba and the U.S. after a 60-year embargo?!"
"Things that are meant to happen, happen. I think the universe conspires to help you," laughed Gloria Estefan of Trump. "I hope he comes to check out the show!"
Nevertheless, opening night was less about bashing Trump than welcoming the diverse Broadway season's new entry, already proving a solid crowdpleaser in previews at the Marquis Theatre box office. Sony head Tommy Mottola and Gloria's fellow crossover artist Thalia celebrated the Estefans' show with Kenny Ortega, Rita Moreno, Susan Lucci, Carlos Ponce, Maria Elena Salinas, Jaime Camil, Dascha Polanco, Bernadette Peters, Diane Sawyer and Lance Bass, among others. The Estefans' daughter Emily even wore Gloria's legendary chaps from the '80s on the red carpet.
Directed by Jerry Mitchell, the bio-musical charts Gloria's rise to international superstar status — meeting Emilio and fronting the Miami Sound Machine, going solo with Emilio as her producer, and recovering from her critical injury when her band's tour bus was hit by a truck in 1990.
"[Gloria and Emilio] took the human spirit to the highest level to overcome adversity," said Yuman of the show's universal appeal, regardless of an audience member's ethnicity. "The reason it's a meaningful piece of work is because when you leave the theater, you will feel empowered, and you will know that you too can live the American dream."
Broadway mainstay Harvey Fierstein added further praise: "It's a story of people who did it their way. They were told not to, but they did their thing, stayed true to themselves and made it. That's what's wonderful."