She was a young Cuban-American college student living in the Little Havana section of Miami. He was another Cuban immigrant with a day job and a band on the side. Her relatives were divided over whether she should try a singing career. She went on to have one of the most successful careers possible in the field, performing as part of the Miami Sound Machine and put out some of the most successful music of the 1980s and ‘90s.
On Your Feet!, the musical based on the lives of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, is on its way to Houston courtesy of Broadway at the Hobby after a two-year run on Broadway. Mauricio Martinez, a Mexican actor and recording artist, performs as Emilio.
“I think it’s the perfect time right now to tell this story,” says Martinez, who grew up in Monterrey and attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy studying musical theater in New York City. “It’s very important right now to remind people all across America that the American dream is possible for immigrants, including myself. The American dream is possible and if you come to this country willing to work and willing to do things with a passion and fight for your dreams that dreams do come true.”
Martinez closed out the final five weeks on Broadway as Emilio, and had a chance to study the manager up close, enabling him to better learn the Cuban accent. “I am a musician and a singer so I do have an ear. Having him next to me, eating with him watching him produce, I spent so many hours doing research that made it easier, he says, adding “And I’m surrounded by Cubans.”
There are a lot of similarities between the Estefans’ story and his own, Martinez says. Although Gloria's Spanish records were a big hit in the world’s Latino music market, American record producers turned down her repeated attempts to cross over into the mainstream U.S. recording market until she broke through with “Conga.”
The show comes with a pretty high pedigree. The script is by Academy Award® winner Alexander Dinelaris (Birdman). "I get to be accompanied by five members of the original Miami Sound Machine who happen to be in the orchestra," notes Martinez.
The story, heavily reliant on the group's music (“The Rhythm is Gonna Get You,” “Coming Out of the Dark,” “Turn the Beat Around”), takes them through their tentative beginnings, rise up the charts, Emilio’s move away from the keyboards and into management and Gloria’s bus crash in which the vertebrae in her back were broken.
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“The music is amazing. It was a big hit on Broadway. It’s meant to be on the road.”
Martinez says he grew up listening to Gloria’s music in Spanish and in English. “As I grew older I realized the importance she and Emilio and the Miami Sound Machine had in the world in representing our culture — Latinos — through music. He’s such a great man who’s done so much for the community and the arts.”
"He’s not only her manager, her husband, her producer, the father of her children," adds Martinez. "He’s definitely the driving force behind Gloria. It’s both of their stories. He’s just as important; he was just not center stage front. He was in the back watching it all and getting her the opportunities," says Martinez. "When you see the show you’ll see they’re really a team. They really function as a team. They complement each other so well and in such a beautiful way."
Performances are scheduled for November 21-26 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-315-2525 or visit thehobbycenter.org. $35 to $175.