At its core, “On Your Feet!” is the story of immigrants trying to build a new life in a strange land. Cuba, with its tumultuous politics, tropical heat and steamy fusion of African and European music and dance, looms large in the Estefan’s musical revolution. Though their native tongue is Spanish, the duo insists on performing in English, to the chagrin of a hard-to-persuade music-industry mogul named Phil (played as a broad caricature by Conner Kocks).
Though it takes a while for their romance to gel, the spark between Emilio and Gloria happens right from the get-go, even as he urges her, in a scene reminiscent of “A Chorus Line,” to loosen up her dance moves. (Paging “Dr. Beat.”) Bilbao and Cervantes are polished and articulate singer-actors, and their performances help carry the show. As Gloria’s abuela, Hernandez is very good, a figure of elegance, beauty and, as time goes by, decrepitude. The scene in which a young Jose remembers his flight out of Cuba is tender and affecting, too. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, Quinones is terrific as Big Gloria, who, at first, has it in for her future son-in-law.
For those who had forgotten Gloria’s near-tragic 1990 tour-bus accident, and the dangerous spinal surgery and triumphant comeback that followed, “On Your Feet!” resuscitates the headlines, if somewhat turgidly. While Chani Maisonet’s salsa-driven choreography for a company approaching 30 is often a bit wobbly and amateurish, it hits a low in the scene in which a group of dancers does healing moves around the hospital bed of a sedated Gloria. Come to think of it, Jose’s convalescence (which also involves a bed) is rather sentimental, too, as is the scene in which the scarred (and scared) Gloria gets her gusto back by hearing her fans read their get-well notes.
But in one very important regard, “On Your Feet!” never lets you down, and that’s the caliber of the music.
For this, we must thank Aurora co-founder and music director Ann-Carol Pence. Her nine-piece band brings the sound of Miami to suburban Lawrenceville, and the show employs, serves and celebrates a Latin-American community that is often marginalized. Like Aurora’s dazzling “In the Heights” of 2016, “On Your Feet!” is a conga-and-chorus-line tribute to the joy and spunk of a new generation of Americans in pursuit of a dream.
One way or another, their “rhythm is gonna get you.”
“On Your Feet!”
8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Also, 10 a.m. March 17 and 24. Through April 19. $30-$65. Aurora Theatre, . 678-226-6222, auroratheatre.com
Bottom line: Music soars in Estefan bio.