The American Dream: Musical brings audiences to their feet

Actress Kassandra Haddock, who grew up singing in choirs and was introduced to musical theater in high school, stars as Gloria Estefan. (Phoenix Theatre Company/Submitted)

By Eryka Forquer

The ideal of the American dream is brought to life in scenes from “On Your Feet!” as Gloria Estefan works to make an impact on the music industry as a Cuban immigrant.

Phoenix Theatre Company Associate Producing Director Pasha Yamotahari says the musical celebrates immigrants’ influence on other cultures.

“Whether you’re living in Kentucky hearing this music or it’s jammed into your Walkman in the early ’90s on a cassette tape in New York City, music is music,” Yamotahari says. “Her music is that, in a way that makes us move, it makes us think, it makes us breathe and it makes us live.”

“On Your Feet!” hits the Phoenix Theatre Company stage from Wednesday, July 13, to Sunday, August 28.

It recounts Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s climb to stardom, detailing Gloria’s childhood in Miami and the tour bus crash that left her with a fractured spine.

Yamotahari says the musical will bring back memories of Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine.

“It’s going to be a great way to rekindle our love for the Miami Sound Machine and to revisit Gloria and Emilio’s life,” Yamotahari says.

The story is accompanied by music and lyrics from Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine and features songs like “Conga” and “1-2-3.” Yamotahari calls the couple’s music “anthems” that will encourage audience members to sing the lyrics with the cast.

“As a community of audience members, they all remember what it felt like to be at a concert or in their car or in their house vacuuming their carpet and hearing a song,” he says. “So, they will hear it and sing out loud.”

Yamotahari says the music will be brought to life by a 13-piece band with Phoenix musicians who blend synth and Afro-Cuban sounds with music from South America and Central America.   

“One thing that’s going to be really amazing is to hear a live band bring these into a full-piece sound, which is something that we don’t necessarily feel when we hear a recording of a song,” he says. “It’s something that you feel in a concert.”   

“On Your Feet!” also captures the relationship between Gloria and Estefan. As scenes from their relationship unfold, the audience will witness the pivotal role that the two played in each other’s lives.

“It’s a crazy, passionate and challenging relationship that they had,” Yamotahari says.

Emilio and Gloria’s relationship was fiery and passionate, which they parlayed into their careers. The pair worked with fervor as they tried to change “what pop music should be defined as.”

The actress who plays Gloria, Kassandra Haddock, says audience members will get a sense of community and family from the show.

“I don’t think Gloria would be who she was without Emilio, without her family and without the love of those people,” Haddock says.

Haddock says she appreciates the relationship between Gloria and Emilio. In the musical, Emilio encourages Gloria to keep going.

“It is the Emilio and Gloria Estefan show,” Haddock says. “Every moment with them is so funny, it’s so real and it’s so inspiring. Who doesn’t want that kind of love?”   

Haddock, who grew up singing in choirs, was introduced to musical theater in high school when she auditioned for her first musical role in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Now at 29 years old, Haddock says playing the role of Gloria is terrifying as she prepares to step into “really, really big shoes.”

Haddock says she is inspired by Gloria’s “endless drive” and her pursuit of the American dream.

“She has dealt with so many hardships in her life,” she says. “From coming to America as an immigrant and then having to help raise her sister and care for her father, my question the whole time is how did you become a superstar? She didn’t have any trajectory.”

Yamotahari says the musical has all the ingredients for a memorable show.

“You have an orchestra concert,” he says.

“You have top-tier choreography and dancers, amazing vocalists and amazing actors all working together within a beautiful design of the show to create a memorable postcard for anyone that’s attending.”

“On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan”

WHEN: Various times Wednesday, July 13, to Sunday, August 28

WHERE: The Phoenix Theatre Company, 1825 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix

COST: Tickets start at $44