After 780 performances on Broadway, the curtain came down on Sunday for On Your Feet!, the musical based on the life of Emilio and Gloria Estefan. After the final performance before an emotional, sold-out house in New York City, the Estefans made a surprise appearance on stage. Gloria Estefan thanked the cast, musicians, and crew, declaring, “Everyone here has given their blood, sweat and tears.” Emilio Estefan said, “This show is not just about Latinos; it is about dreams.”
For performers and audience members alike, the end of the show was bittersweet.
“This show has really changed my life, in so many ways,” cast member Angelica Beliard told NBC News. “The community of people that I found within the show has been the most genuine, altruistic group of friends I could have made.”
Being part of a nearly-entirely Latino cast, Beliard said, has been “incredibly special.”
“The love and the passion that is being shown here, doesn’t often get represented on the Great White Way,” she noted.
The show began performances at the Marquis Theater in New York City on October 5, 2015, and opened on November 5, 2015. The New York Times review called it “fresh, flashy, and undeniably crowd-pleasing.” On Your Feet! was nominated for a 2016 Tony Award for best choreography.
Jeremey Adam Rey made his Broadway debut in On Your Feet! in December. Speaking with NBC on the day before the final performance, he predicted that the final show would be “a very emotional ride.”
“I’ve been a professional dancer for people like Jennifer Lopez, but I have never done anything like this before,” he said. “For Latino performers, this show is good for us, because it shows that we can do so much more. The fact that in this cast we have people from everywhere -- from Venezuela to Mexico to Puerto Rico to Haiti -- says something. It’s very powerful.”
The Latino performers in On Your Feet! are among an elite group. According to Actors Equity, the union representing stage performers, Hispanics comprised just 3.2 percent of its active membership during the 2015-2016 theatrical season.
“This has been my first time working with a full Latino cast,” said Hector Maisonet, who has been with the show since it began rehearsals in New York. “We are family.”
Speaking in advance of the final performance, Maisonet predicted, “it is going to be a tough one. It will be almost like opening night; it is going to be great – and overwhelming.”
On Your Feet! provided its cast members with national visibility, such as the opportunity to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, on the Today Show, and at The White House. The show’s run coincided with the rise of Donald Trump, who often described Latinos in unflattering terms.
Yet each night, the show drew huge applause when the Emilio Estefan character told a record company executive, “Look at my face. Whether you know it or not, this is what an American looks like.”
The inclusive message of On Your Feet! resonated with many non-Latinos as well. The show spawned a vibrant online and in-person community of devotees, such as the “On Your Feeties” fan group (who were personally acknowledged from the stage by Gloria Estefan). One member saw the show 140 times.
“Seeing this show reminds me of the sacrifices that my parents made when they first came from the Philippines,” said audience member Suzette Samson. She has seen the show 69 times.
On Your Feet! was meaningful to her, Samson explained, not only because of the love story and the music of the Estefans, but also “because we were seeing brown people, diverse people on a stage on Broadway, people like us.”
“Besides, what other show does a conga line down the aisle at intermission?” added her sister, Sheryle Samson. She has seen the show 65 times.
But the conga line is not over. On Your Feet launches a national tour – including some members of the Broadway production – in Buffalo, N.Y. on September 22, followed by a grand opening in Miami in October. That same month, the show’s international productions will begin in the Netherlands. So far, the U.S. tour has dates booked across the country through October 2018.
“I feel sad that this show is ending,” Sheryle Samson said. She, along with her sister, has befriended cast members and met fellow aficionados of On Your Feet! from all over the world. “But I am also happy that it is going on tour, so that other people around the country can see and experience what we’ve seen. This show gets you in the heart.”