There’s a conga line of late-bloomer-Boomer-era song stylists like the Temptations (“Ain’t Too Proud”), Tina Turner (“Tina”) and Cher (“The Cher Show”) heading to Broadway to harmonize life stories with the likes of Carole King (“Beautiful”) and Donna Summer (“Summer”). Been there and done that is Gloria Estefan, the true queen of the conga, exhorting fans through her theatrical doppelgänger to get “On Your Feet!”
It’s a call worth answering. The Jerry Mitchell-directed Broadway edition ran a respectable two years and garnered a Tony nomination for its still-sizzling choreography by Sergio Trujillo. A Dutch production recently closed and a London version is planned for 2019. The current tour, running since late 2017, expertly turns the beat around in San Francisco at the newly-refurbished SHN Golden Gate Theatre until Oct. 7.
Subtitled “The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical,” the production is a 1-2-3 telling of the singer’s childhood, professional development and career ascendance amid the obligatory personal and professional setbacks — including a near fatal bus accident.
What sets this bio-musical apart from others is multidimensional characters who focus on family, the parity of the partnership between Gloria and Emilio, and the undeniable kinetic power of the music they made. There’s no use resisting, because the rhythm is gonna get you.
Christie Prades lacks a bit of the sloe-eyed look and smoky timbre of the original, but her Gloria is just as feisty, uncompromising and resilient. Prades plays a wonderful arc from eager girl to forceful artist, confident in her talent and her vision.
The challenge for her is to keep up with Mauricio Martínez as the less-public Emilio who just about steals the show.
From his flashback entrance in ridiculously tight white shorts, Martínez sets a tone of confident machismo leavened by a passion for his culture and the smarts to embrace the strengths Gloria brings to their professional and personal pairing. He’s a natural comic, grabbing the Ricky-Ricardo-motormouth-Spanglish stereotype and twisting it into a means to his end.
There’s also a current of unbending strength in his carriage, culminating in a show-stopping roar of “This is what an American looks like!” at a racist executive who would keep the Estefans in their music ghetto.
More than two-dozen Estefan and Miami Sound Machine songs carry you through the night, and some of the story-advancing placements like “If I Never Got to Tell You” as a post-accident family reconciliation for Emilio and Gloria’s mother (Nancy Ticotin) work particularly well.
The spindle of jukebox biographies is clearly not played out, but if future presenters take a page from the Estefan playbook — a lot of heart, a compelling story and solid production values — that may not be such a bad thing.
On Your Feet!
Where: Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 7
Tickets: $70 to $246