Ana Villafañe is a lifelong fan of Gloria Estefan. She even attended the same Miami, Florida, high school as the seven-time Grammy-winning singer, Our Lady of Lourdes Academy.
Now she gets to work with — and to portray — the star in the new musical "On Your Feet," which is based on the lives and music of Estefan and her husband, Emilio.
Villafañe learned of a Miami open casting call for the show last year but was not able to attend. She sent the casting office a video and within three days was called to audition for the Estefans and Tony-winning director Jerry Mitchell.
Villafañe said her role — her Broadway debut — is not only the fulfillment of a dream but also a big responsibility.
“I mean, to be chosen to play this part and to step into these shoes, it’s a huge deal. ... It's not because she’s a star and it’s not because she’s such a diva, which she rightfully is. It’s more, I think, because of the person that she is and what she represents to so many people — to not just the Latin community." Villafañe said Estafan "broke a lot of barriers in being herself and in being herself without being a stereotype, being a cliche.”
Josh Segarra, who portrays Emilio Estefan, said that he'd seen cultural barriers shift in theater, where Latin actors and actresses are not defined by their ethnicity and don’t have to fit into stereotypical roles.
“We now get to play characters that happen to be Latino," he said. "They happen to be Cuban and happen to be El Salvadoran and happen to be Puerto Rican. And it’s not defining us anymore. So to get to play a man that has broken walls, that has broken barriers — that’s an honor.
"You know, I get to kind of live through that a little bit. I get to say some pretty important stuff in this show. We get to share some pretty important moments in this show and we get to live it every night, so as an artist you can only grow from that.”
Villafañe said the musical shows some of the struggles the Estefans went through to stay true to their identity and vision. She said Gloria Estefan had told her stories about rejecting certain kinds of stereotypical costuming demands. "She would say, ‘No. I’m going out in leather, and I’m going out in chaps,' and she ... didn’t have to be any certain mold. She created one.”
"On Your Feet" features choreography by four-time Drama Desk award nominee and Olivier Award winner Sergio Trujillo. The book is by Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris.
The score includes original orchestrations by Gloria and Emilio Estefan, and several members of the original Miami Sound Machine are in the orchestra.