Gloria Estefan took the music world by storm, selling more than 100 million albums to date in her more than 30-year career. Supporting her, loving her and mixing hit after hit was her husband Emilio, who won 19 Grammys.
The love story and rise to success of these two Cuban-Americans is celebrated in the musical “On Your Feet!,” which is making its way to Broadway this fall.
To play one of the Estefans would be a dream role for millions of Latino kids growing up in the U.S., and the lucky two who were chosen to do it are Ana Villafañe (“South Beach") and Josh Segarra (“Sirens”).
“When I heard about [the show], I was just dying for the change,” Villafañe, 26, told Fox News Latino recently. “I felt an insane connection to the show and to the story and to the character, of course. I am Cuban and Salvadoran, and I grew up in Miami. Gloria reigned supreme as the queen there.”
She wanted the role so badly that she even threatened to drop her management team if they didn’t at least get her an audition. A video of her singing various songs was sent to the producers – including a cover of David Guetta’s “Titanium” – and three days later she had landed the part of Gloria.
Segarra quipped that his story was not as interesting but said he was just as happy when he got the call.
The Estefans have been very hands-on in the process, from choosing the lead actors to helping the band make sure they get the beats right.
"They are the most cool, most approachable, humble people," Villafañe said. "They are not just signing checks. They are not just showing up for the press. They are not just signing their name and using their status ... To see that tenacity, to see that ferociousness and to see that dedication is, I think, the best example for us, and it inspires the character because it is something intangible."
The musical uses hits like “1-2-3,” “Turn the Beat Around” and “Conga” to tell the story of how the budding singer met Emilio, and how the two battled for crossover success, handled interfamily squabbles and overcame a bus crash that nearly ended Gloria’s life.
“Alexander Dinelaris, who is our book writer [and who won an Academy Award for "Birdman" last year], has done an incredible job – masterful really – threading the music through the story, so you’ll be surprised how the songs are used to tell the story rather than to benchmark milestones,” Villafañe said. “It flows in a different way, which is really cool, because it lets the essence and that passion and the flavor kind of ooze in a different way.”
Segarra called the show “authentic” to the Estefans story as well as the experience of Latinos in the U.S.
“Ana is giving you a girl from Miami because she’s a girl from Miami, and I’m a Latin kid who knows what it’s like to be around Latin dudes,” he told FNL. “You can’t teach people that. It’s something that’s in our bones. When that curtain goes up, you have 25 Latin folk doing their thing.”
The Estefans recently said the musical is a reminder that the United States is a nation of immigrants.
"It doesn't matter where you come from – unless you're a Native American, you're not from here. Somewhere down the road, you came from somewhere else," Gloria Estefan told the Associated Press recently. "It's always the last person in that gets bashed."
Segarra said the musical doesn't make an obvious point about immigration during the show, but that it’s something that is very present with everyone involved.
“For me, I like to come from a point that I didn’t have to struggle. I come from a Latin nation that had an open policy with the U.S.,” he said. “My parents moved right to Florida, opened a pharmacy and had me. I’m watching, I’m learning from people in our cast who did come to the U.S., who are living the American Dream. It is my responsibility, our responsibility to speak for all of us.”
He continued: “We get to say and do some pretty cool stuff on that stage and represent Latinos.”
Villafañe echoed her costar’s words.
“I think [the show] is so much bigger than just a musical about a superstar and how she got there and a power couple and how they got there,” she said. “[The Estefans] represent so much more than that. They are a symbol for an entire community. On the world stage, they represent what two people can do – from any country, whether its Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic – what you can do when you stay true to yourself and hold on to your traditions and work hard.”
She added: “That’s what this country provides, and I think that’s what this show really inspires. You look around this country these days, and it would be ignorant to say that it wasn’t built by immigrants and that we all look the same. We are all a big product of a big mixture, and I think that’s beautiful and I think that’s what this show celebrates and elevates.”
“On Your Feet” is currently in previews. The show opens Nov. 5 at the Marquis Theatre.