An incredible story has come to Broadway, with the message of hope and love at its helm. We’ve witnessed the two stars’ love and success over the years, and now we see it through a different lens, on Broadway. Gloria and Emilio Estefan went worldwide looking for two stars to play themselves in their new musical, On Your Feet! They found two talented actors, Ana Villafane and Josh Segarra, who they knew would bring this story to life. We asked the Estefans and Josh and Ana questions about their lives and about the show.
What has it been like bringing this story to Broadway?
GLORIA: It is a huge honor and privilege to have our story told on Broadway. It wasn’t something we “chose,” but rather a series of moments and connections that came together very organically. When the opportunity arose, we felt that, of all the possible ways that exist to tell our story, a live production where people actually sing, dance and act, was the closest to our real lives! The connection that exists between artists on a stage and their audience is what I have lived throughout my professional life.
EMILIO: We have always been huge Broadway fans, but now to feel the energy of the crowd in response to our story and our music, and see them singing and dancing on their feet, is an incredible experience. There’s nothing else like it.
As the actors, what has it been like telling their story?
ANA VILLAFANE (AV): There’s strange kind of magic in bringing this particular story to life because it’s one that runs in my veins. I grew up with this story, both through Gloria’s music and, as a child of a Cuban exile with a “don’t take no for an answer” attitude. The responsibility I have to embody that ethos is something I take very seriously. I respect and honor Gloria, Emilio and everything they stand for. So that’s my job every time I have the privilege of stepping onstage. I have to make sure everyone falls in love with this story as much as I have.
JOSH SEGARRA (JS): It has been an honor. This story is one that speaks to everyone. It’s about fighting for what you believe in. Fighting for who you are, and who you want to become.
The Estefans opened a worldwide casting search looking for the two actors who could sing, dance, and portray to the world the story of their love. Gloria and Estefan told us about the audition process.
GLORIA: I am in awe of the people that make these productions happen. From the cast, crew and musicians to the amazing creative team and producers, there are so many moving parts, choices, possibilities, decisions and risks that are taken on a daily basis that my respect for them has only grown exponentially. Particularly for our two stars, Ana Villafañe and Josh Segarra, who play us on stage eight times a week and bring so much honesty to their performances. During the casting search, we weren’t looking for people to be our clones, but rather two artists who could interpret our lives and this beautiful script written by Alex Dinelaris. But it was really tough, because we needed to find actors who were completely bilingual – able to sing in both English and Spanish – and be really legitimate in the music, from pop to our more traditional Cuban rhythms. When I saw that Ana looked like she could be my daughter – and then was enthralled by her singing and blown away by her reading of one of the most difficult scenes in the play – I was sold. Emilio was sold on Josh the minute he saw Josh’s good looks! Just kidding, of course.
EMILIO: He’s quite a handsome guy, no? But Josh was involved since the first reading, and he showed so much charisma and heart in his performance. We saw thousands of guys, and no one could play the part like him. He’s very observant and dedicated to the role; he becomes more and more like me every day! He’s even nailed my thick Cuban accent!
The actors opened up about what the audition process was like and how they reacted when they found out they were chosen.
AV: When I first heard about the casting call, I was in LA and told my management that I needed to go in. I had never auditioned for a Broadway show before, but I was a working actress with years of musical training under my belt. I simply knew I had something to offer and felt an insane connection to the role. I was flown up to New York for a whirlwind three-day-trip, and on the final day I sang and read for the Estefans, which was intimidating to say the least. Forty minutes after that final callback, I got the call offering me the job. I was in the middle of the street and started crying, which was both embarrassing and completely out of character for me. I then called my sister and my mom, and immediately needed champagne.
JS: I was offered the very first reading by casting. The Estefans still didn’t know who I was, so I had to earn the part. After each reading, as an actor, you learn to just “let it go” because nothing is guaranteed in this business. But every few months, I was asked to come back and reprise the roll. And here we are. Emilio is a man that I have come to love and truly respect. I couldn’t have asked for a better man to portray. He reminds me so much of my father (kind, giving, selfless, intelligent, and passionate). It was a no brainer for me. This was my part. I knew that I’d protect him, and also showcase him in the correct light.
What has it been like working with the Estefans?
AV: It is such a dream. Even during the rehearsal process, I would wake up looking forward to work. I don’t take that for granted because I know only a small percent of us in this world ever get that feeling. They’ve welcomed us into their family in a way I never would have imagined. Just the other night a few of us were at their hotel and we were drinking wine, just hanging out watching YouTube videos. I never would have imagined that in a million years. Plus it’s priceless character study. I am learning how to play a global superstar from the global superstar herself who is now my friend. I’m incredibly grateful to them for that.
JS: They are a dream, so funny, humble, and selfless. It has been a master class on how to handle the pressures that they handle. Their brains are full of information and experiences. I just try to soak it all in.
On Your Feet! has been sculpted for the stage by Academy Award winning writer, Alex Dinelaris and a multiple Tony Award winning director, Jerry Mitchell. How has the process been in working with them?
EMILIO: This whole process has been so magical. Gloria and I both believe a lot in destiny. And believe it or not, Alex was the first writer we met with, and Jerry was the first director we met with. In both cases, it just felt so right, we didn’t want to meet with anyone else!
GLORIA: We fell in love with their ideas for how they would approach this musical. We were all very much in sync. They really understood where we come from, and both of them are all about pushing forward and thinking outside of the box. I’ve always been a fan of Jerry’s, with his incredible work in shows like Kinky Boots and Hairspray, and Alex – well, let’s just say thank God we signed on with Alex before he won his Oscar for Birdman, or else we probably wouldn’t have been able to afford him!
AV: It’s made me a sponge. I want to soak in every bit of their genius and reflect that in my work. So I ask them as many questions as possible and learn something new from them every day, both professionally and personally. It’s humbling in the best way to get to be a part of their vision. Demanding, for sure, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am in such great hands.
JS: Alex is the man. He has such a sharp ear. He and I have a connection that doesn’t come around very often in this business. We come from similar backgrounds, and have similar aspirations, so they now are lining up somewhat. He has taught me so much about the spoken word, what’s important, what matters. Jerry is the captain of our ship. He keeps the morale high. He reminds us that this is FUN. This is the dream. He is a master sculptor. He has the sharpest eye for making our show the best it can be. And he’s hilarious. That always helps.
What has it been like for Ana and Josh to take on these characters? How did knowing the Estefans help, and are there parts of yourself that you’ve channeled through the role?
AV: Everyone knows Gloria as the icon. She has her iconic style, her iconic voice and her iconic way of presenting herself to the world. But I wanted to dive much deeper than that, and almost tackle this as if it were a film. I find myself looking to Gloria’s entire trajectory, her family life and the way she’s remained true to herself through the whole bit. That kind of integrity is so rare, especially in this industry.
JS: All of me is in this role. As an actor, you find what part of the character is in you and expand on that. I can’t be up there doing a bad impression of Emilio Estefan. That’d be atrocious. What’s important is finding his heart, finding his driving force, his love, and putting that on every day. Find what drives him from the inside and feeling that inside of me. The exterior, that’s secondary.
We remember when Gloria Estefan was in a terrible tour bus accident and broke her back, and we remember the hope and love she gave to the world through her recovery. Gloria and Emilio are still beacons of this worldwide strength, but where do they get it?
GLORIA: Many things, but most importantly, love and family. Strength really is the core of this musical: the show is named for one of our biggest and longest lasting hits, “Get On Your Feet.” It symbolizes the times in both Emilio’s and my life where we’ve had to start over. We had to leave our homeland and find a new life in a new country with a new language, we fought for our musical ideas despite being told that our sound would never have mainstream appeal then finally, after being paralyzed in an accident while on tour, I had to literally learn to walk again. We have always been getting back “on our feet” in one-way or another.
EMILIO: I wake up in the morning, thank God that I live in a free country, that I’m alive, I have healthy kids, and that I am still able to work and produce concerts, television and film. But it took a lot of work to get here. With On Your Feet! we want to remind this young generation that the sky is the limit. You can achieve your dreams if you have dedication and perseverance. The American dream is alive and kicking, and as immigrants, we have such love and respect for this country and its freedoms, and there are millions more out there that positively contribute to the fabric of American life every day.
Their story of strength has passed on and is being found in new artists and performers every day. We asked our two stars, Ana and Josh how the strength of culture, upbringing, and beliefs has affected them.
AV: My background, culture and family inform who I am, that is a huge parallel I have with Gloria. If you lose yourself, what do you have left? In my opinion, being strong is relative. When you consider how truly difficult life is for immigrants who come here with nothing, for people who have nothing to eat or nowhere to go. We don’t have actual problems. So I guess gratitude gives me strength. And I take nothing for granted.
JS: I grew up in a Puerto Rican household. My parents are still together 37 years later. I have a younger brother and younger sister. I’m the oldest of 3. I just celebrated my first wedding anniversary. All of those things have an effect on the person I am today. It’s taught me that none of this matters without those around you that love you and support you. Being raised in a Puerto Rican community taught me a lot about the American dream. And now I’m seeing it first hand once again with my cast, with those around me today.
When did the Broadway/performing bug bite you?
AV: I’ve been performing my whole life, even when I didn’t have an audience. I booked my first professional musical when I was nine, but I just saw it as my after-school activity. Before that show (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Actors’ Playhouse in Miami) I had only ever been a singer. So I learned about acting on stage, by watching the adults work and by being in that theatre night after night as a fourth grader. Being able to transcend myself and tell another person’s story was just escape-ism at first, but eventually it became my dream. Then I ended up moving to L.A. after high school when I got signed with an agent for TV and film. I always secretly wanted to be on Broadway.
JS: I was that kid what wanted to be in every play at church. I wanted to be the audience participator in every theme park show. But most importantly, I wanted to be Macho Man Randy Savage. I wanted to be the Ultimate Warrior. I wanted to be a professional wrestler. That was the bug that bit me. I saw these guys that were larger than life. They held the audience in the palm of their hand. When I got to high school, I had a teacher that changed my life. She always used to say, “We aren’t doing high school theatre. We are doing theater in a high school.” That was it. I was hooked.
If you could give advice to your younger self, what would you say?
AV: Trust. Sometimes looking back, I’m like “If only you knew.” So I’d tell myself to trust that there is a method to the madness and that it’s all happening when it’s supposed to.
JS: I would say, “Chill Josh, everything is going to be ok.”
What’s a day-in-the-life like for you?
AV: Every day is different! I will usually make breakfast, hit a class or two at the gym, and then maybe shop a bit or get a massage or a manicure, something to make me feel like I’m taking care of myself. I just moved to New York so I am very much new in town, and right now my schedule revolves around the show. I’m all about making sure my mind and body are on the same page. After the show I love to decompress by walking home. I love to do anything that helps me get the adrenaline down.
JS: I wake up next to my wife and my dog. We make coffee and watch Sports Center. I check my fantasy football line-up, head to the gym and get my fitness on. Come back, maybe run an errand, maybe watch an Episode of “Narcos” on Netflix. Then I head to the show, act for like 2.5 hours. I say hi to some folks after, then I head home. Sit on the couch with my lady and my doggie. Go to sleep. Days off, it’s the exact same except I watch more football, basketball, wrestling, instead of the acting part.
Lastly, giving us a hint into their world, Gloria and Emilio tell us what being ‘InLove’ means to them?
GLORIA: Emilio takes care of me on every level possible – from the smallest detail, to making sure that everything is the way it should be. He is the most motivational human being I know; if you’re around him, he is total energy. He gets up every day in a good mood, and is always a “can do” guy. He never lost the kid inside of him – that spark of innocence – and after 37 years of marriage, he still makes me laugh every day.
EMILIO: There has to be a strong foundation of love. It’s one thing to be crazy for each other, but what’s most important is to keep it going with respect for each other, and strong communication. You have to live for the other person, and their happiness.
GLORIA: Love is the anchor of our story, in more ways than one. On Your Feet! It is our personal love story, but it’s also a love story to music and a love story to this incredible country, which opened its arms to us.
Where would we be without love? With love and hope at the forefront of everything we do, nothing is impossible.
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