Broadway’s On Your Feet! | The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan

If you plan to be backstage at the Marquis Theatre between shows on any given Saturday, it’s a good idea to brush up on your Spanish. The bilingual cast of On Your Feet!—the high-octane musical bio about Emilio and Gloria Estefan—has reserved the day to converse exclusively “en Español,”  or, as leading lady Ana Villafañe explains, “It’s a game we play every week to own our cultures and honor the two people [who] brought these cultures together through their music.” 

ana villafane on your feet

Photos by Matthew Murphy

As it turns out, the “game” is also in keeping with Emilio’s driving ideology, which makes the show unique to Broadway. “Emilio was adamant about having a Latino cast,” says Villafañe, citing Estefan’s concern about other shows with Hispanic characters that weren’t as particular about casting.

ana villafane on your feetIn On Your Feet!, thanks significantly to Emilio’s determination and vision, there’s a palpable “...Latino pride to the singing and dancing,” says the actress. “Like me, most of the cast is making their Broadway debuts in the show, so this show is very personal to all of us.”

One reason On Your Feet! hits such an essential chord, not only among the cast but throughout the Latino world, is the prevalence of Gloria and Emilio’s songs in everyday life. “You can’t go to a wedding without hearing their music,” says Villafañe, who recalls the first song she ever sang in public (at a Miami convention) was “Reach” when she was nine.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia to a Cuban mother born in the U.S. and a Salvadorian exile father, Villafañe explains that the family moved to Miami when she was little. And growing up in Miami made it easy for her to relate to the storyline, since both Emilio (played by Ektor Rivera) and Gloria were born in Cuba and relocated to Miami when they were young. In addition, much of the musical is set in Miami.

“In a way, being only half Cuban makes it possible for me to tell the story in a more universal way so that everyone can identify,” she notes. And considering the wildly enthusiastic reaction of the multi-cultural audience that packs the Marquis Theatre regularly, Villafañe’s message is spreading.

No wonder—the show opens with an irresistible musical blast—Gloria’s voice, plus orchestra, plus the infectiously hot, “AT NIGHT/?WHEN YOU TURN OFF ALL THE LIGHTS/THERE’S NO PLACE THAT YOU CAN HIDE/OH NO THE RHYTHM IS GONNA GET YOU!”

And yes, the show is a feast of the Estefans’ Spanish/crossover/chart-topping/Grammy-winning portfolio of hits, but it is also a deftly scripted and revelatory story that zigzags across home, culture, family ties, career, and personal battles to showcase the love between two independent artists who together would challenge and conquer the music establishment.

“When I received the audition materials, I was overwhelmed,” says Villafañe, who began her journey to Broadway when she traveled from LA to New York for the workshop in 2014. She recalls when after a dinner with Gloria she became obsessed with getting the character down perfectly. “The voice, the diction, the gestures, the way she moved...I studied videos of her interviews and performances,” says Villafañe, a trained classical soprano who, along with everything else, had to shift vocal gears to reach Gloria’s signature contralto. But Gloria arranged an amazing gift—she flew her voice teacher, Torb, from Australia to New York to work with me to get the Gloria Estefan sounding legit.”

Even today, nearly a year and a half after opening, Villafañe admits to being humbled to embodying a music icon—and to be fulfilling her childhood dream of performing on Broadway.

“At the end of the day, On Your Feet! is the story of a girl who has no idea what she’s capable of—and it’s about family and boundaries, says Villafañe. “This show has been that for me.”

ana villafane on your feet

On Your Feet! is playing at Broadway’s Marquis Theatre located in the Marriott Marquis (the box office is on 46th St. between Broadway and Eighth Ave.). For reservations call 877-250-2929 or visit

About the Author

City Guide Theatre Editor Griffin Miller moved to New York to pursue an acting/writing career in the 1980s after graduating magna cum laude from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Since then, she has written for The New York Times, For the Bride, Hotels, and a number of other publications, mostly in the areas of travel and performance arts. An active member of The New York Travel Writers Association, she is also a playwright and award-winning collage artist. In addition, she sits on the board of The Lewis Carroll Society of North America. Griffin is married to Richard Sandomir, a reporter for The New York Times.

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