Conga drums. Bongo bells. Cuban rhythms and color. Sequins. Tap dancers in flip-flops.
There is all this and more in “On Your Feet: The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan,” playing at Vista’s Moonlight Amphitheatre to close out its summer season. The rhythm is gonna getcha – for sure.
Opening night Wednesday offered plenty of contagious Latin beats and songs that readily infected the audience. By the finale, they were more than ready to get on their feet and jump into a conga line.
The life stories of the Estefans, both native Cubans, weave in and out of more than two dozen recognizable songs written by the couple and others. The script unfolds to reveal the difficulties both faced on their journeys to current standing and success.
Gloria’s mother was strongly against her music career and life on the road, and Emilio faced multiple roadblocks and a lack of faith on his journey to bring Latin music to the mainstream – not just concerts and recordings but Italian weddings, Shriner’s conventions and even bar mitzvahs.
For Ariella Kvashny, winning the hefty role of Gloria is a dream come true for the recent graduate of the fine arts program at the University of California, Irvine.
“It’s a dream role to play Gloria Estefan,” said the actor who grew up and still resides in Chula Vista. “I’ve always had a fondness for her music.”
And it was this fondness that was fortuitously responsible for her first appearance at the Moonlight.
“I chose to sing one of Gloria Estefan’s songs for my musical showcase (necessary for college graduation) before I even knew the Moonlight was going to do this production,” Kvashny explained. “Then I found the audition online and submitted (the recording of) my showcase. I’ve always wanted to audition for Moonlight but it never worked with my schedule before.”
Kvashny is well suited to play the multiple Grammy Award-winner and with Emilio, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She channels the artist’s voice in clear, even tones, and with Eduardo Enrikez who plays Emilio, creates rich harmonies that raise the emotions of the moment.
“I’m excited to share this with the world,” Kvashny said just hours before the opening-night curtain. “I feel deeply connected (with Gloria). The other cast members have helped me to gain a lot of confidence and strength.”
Additional kudos go to Catalina Maynard, who as Gloria’s grandmother (abuela) Consuelo, adds comic relief in serious moments with perfectly-timed lines and inflection; Diego Mendoza, a Rancho del Rey Middle School student in Chula Vista who plays the Estefans’ son and deserves the applause he prompted for his extraordinary dance moves; music director and conductor Lyndon Pugeda and his on-stage orchestra that changed the pace and mood seamlessly; choreographer Carlos Mendoza and the dance ensemble who maintained a flawless vibrance to the end (watch for those flip-flop-clad tap dancers); Felicia Broschart whose hot, vibrant outfits gave the production sparkle and pizzazz; and director James Vasquez, who put all the energetic moving parts together to create one big, glittery party that we can all enjoy. Oye!
The Moonlight is the first California theater with the rights to “On Your Feet,” which runs through Oct. 2. Gates open 6:00 p.m.; curtain at 7:30 p.m.
Single tickets $17 – $59 with additional general lawn discounts for seniors, students and the military. Check the website for mask regulations and other information, or call 760-724-2110.