The hit musical, On Your Feet! – The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan comes to Wales Millennium Centre from 21-26 October 2019.
On Your Feet! Is the inspiring true love story of Emilio and Gloria and charts their journey from its origins in Cuba, onto the streets of Miami and finally to international superstardom and features some of the most iconic pops songs of the era, including ‘Rhythm is Gonna Get You’, ‘Conga’, ‘Get On Your Feet’, ‘Don’t Want To Lose You Now’ and ‘1-2-3’.
Starring in the show is Sicilian born actor Elia Lo Tauro as Gloria’s father, José Fajardo. Elia recently took time out to speak to Andy Howells about On Your Feet, his career and even acting alongside Daniel Craig in the James Bond film, Skyfall!
Can you tell us a little about On Your Feet?
The show is a Broadway hit, directed by Jerry Mitchell and choreographed by the Tony award winner Sergio Trujillo and with the Music Supervision of Clay Ostwald from the “Miami Sound Machine”.
The Musical, written by the Academy award winner Alex Delinaris, presents the life, career and love story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, from their early days in Cuba until when they reach stardom. The whole show is a real roller-coaster of emotions, it talks about respect, equality, love, diversity, inclusion, family and tradition. People connect and often identify with those amazing topics in Gloria’s life. The message is a universal message very delicate and ever so present nowadays in the whole world, let’s just think about Trump’s America or Brexit.
You play the role of José Fajardo. Can you tell us about your character?
I play Gloria’s ex-military damaged father, José or better known as just “Fajardo”. He was a police officer for the Battista’s regime but also a very caring and loving father who would do anything for his family and his daughters.
During the Cuban revolution the Fajardo family had to leave Cuba to find a safer life in Miami. Once in America José volunteered for the Vietnam War where he got in contact with the “Agent Orange”, a defoliant chemical that US Army used during the war, a very toxic herbicide that caused him brain damage which led to Multiple Sclerosis and left him in a wheelchair. He was nursed by his wife Gloria Fajardo and his daughter Gloria. My character brings a bit of drama to the show and some very emotional moments.
Gloria Estefan in person worked very closely with me during the rehearsals process. She told me a lot about her father. It was heart breaking to listen to those original tape recording he used to send her whilst in Vietnam. I shared laughter and tears with her while working. I try to portray with honesty and sensitivity her Father on stage and I feel ever so honoured to be able to do it so every night.
You’ve played the role in the West-End too, what’s it like going out on tour with the show?
Going on tour is always very exciting. We get to see different cities around UK and experience different audiences which keeps the show fresh. It feels like having a debut every week in each theatre we go to. The Audience loves the show and follows with much attention and interest Gloria’s Story. At the End of the show they are always on their feet!
What’s your favourite moment in On Your Feet?
It is “Wrapped” a scene of the second Act of the show. It is a touching and very moving moment; it comes right after Gloria’s accident. In that scene everything comes back to life: Memories, Family, Tradition, love, her father and Grandmother. I also get to sing one of my favourite Estefan’s song in a duet with Philippa Stefani our beautiful Gloria. She is not only the leading Lady of the show but also a dear friend of mine.
Were you familiar with the music of Gloria Estefan prior to the show?
I am a big Fan of Gloria Estefan; I grew up listening to her music. I used to dance “Conga” in clubs when I was a teenager. Also, when the CD “Mi Tierra” came out, I would put it on every morning and sing along with it. When I got offered to be part of the show, I was so thrilled, I was beyond myself with excitement that I would be singing some of Gloria Estefan’s songs.
You were born in Sicily, so what was your exposure to musicals and theatre as a young boy?
Since I was a little boy I used to perform in front of my parents and friends during our family gatherings and parties. I would dance, sing and act for them. I have always found in theatre and drama the perfect way to channel my creativity and exuberance.
My Mum knew straight away that I was made for the Stage. She supported and fed my talent and passion for the performing arts, sending me to drama school and to singing, piano and dancing classes. My mother also sent me to our local church’s theatre company to start getting some experience, helping with the backstage duties.
I used to love seeing those big theatre curtains and red velvet seats and staring at the actors whilst rehearsing. I remember seeing the first Musical there, “The Imaginary Invalid ” by Molière. It was then that I decided I wanted to be one of them, one day.
What led you into acting?
It has been a natural process. I think I had the need to connect with people on a different level. The urge to understand what somebody else would feel. The possibility to communicate and empathise through someone else’s eyes and sensitivity is fascinating to me. Within acting I would share feelings and emotions that I would not normally show to everyone. Acting is liberating. It was also Gianni Salvo, Sicilian Actor and director and my first drama mentor back in Sicily, who passed on to me the love for acting.
You trained at Teatro Piccolo (Sicily, Italy) and Identity School of Acting and RADA (London). Were there any major differences to learning in both countries?
The differences were made by the generosity of each of the teachers I had. I have been so lucky to have trained with amazing professionals in both countries. I guess back in Sicily I was a young boy and could only partially understand what it really meant acting. There, I had my foundations and learned how to follow my heart.
Growing older I decided to ground myself more as an artist and decided to take sometimes off work going back to study and to nurture my craft to become a better actor and a more sensitive Man. The teachers I found in UK were just amazing. Here, I learned how to use instead my head and my guts, and I discovered other techniques and other Theatre practitioners whose studies enriched my knowledge.
What was your first major role in theatre?
It was back in 2000 and it was my first singing role in Jesus Christ Superstar. I was playing Simon the Zealot next to the amazing Carl Anderson (the Original Judas from the JCS 70’s movie) I was very young and to sing next to such a great star, it meant the world to me. Carl was such a generous artist and helped me a lot to acquire the necessary confidence on stage that I needed at the beginning of my career. He was also a very spiritual person and I have learned a lot from him. I know that he watches over me and protects me.
You have an impressive list of credits. Have you been happy with the way your career has progressed and have there been any favourite roles?
I feel so lucky of how my career has developed. Who would have known that a Sicilian boy like me would ended up in the West End and gone internationally? I am so thankful to the UK that has given me so many work opportunities and to those Directors who believed in me. I fall in love with each role I play, as they all capture a big part of my sensitivity.
However, the role of “Cacambo” that I played in Bernstein’s Candide, last summer, had stolen a big piece of my heart. It had many similarities with my own character, the way of thinking and of approaching life. Always with positivity and “optimism “. Those who have read Voltaire’s novel would understand better for me to put it into words.
I also enjoy very much playing the “mean” guy. I had so much fun lately playing Captain Hook.
You’ve also done some film and TV including a role in Skyfall. What was it like appearing in a Bond film?
It was unreal! To be on a Bond set next to Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem it was a dream come true. I played Bardem’s Henchman and as it usually happens to all of them, I got killed, shot by Bond. It was a non-speaking part, but I had over 4 weeks of a tough boot camp training to be able to shoot my scenes. I learned how to combat, fight, stunt and how to use guns. Very intense but a very rewarding work directed by the great Sam Mendes. I’d love to be playing in another Bond movie and maybe upgrade to a speaking role next time.
How would you describe On Your Feet to someone thinking of going to see it?
I would say surprising! it isn’t just a fun night out but there is much more to it. Come down and watch it and be sure that the rhythm will get you and will put you literately “On Your Feet!”
On Your Feet! runs at Wales Millennium Centre from 21-26 October 2019. For ticket details visit http://www.wmc.org.uk