The other Gloria in the story of On Your Feet
Having auditioned for the role of Gloria Estefan in the musical, On Your Feet, Madalena Alberto admits she was not too chuffed at first to be offered the part of the singer’s mother instead.
But she came to realise that Gloria Fujardo is a vital element in the show which tells the story of how her daughter and her husband Emilio Estefan became the biggest-selling Latin artists in the world.
“She is the antagonist in the story,” says the Portuguese actress and singer. “She was not very happy about Gloria’s choices and didn’t like Emilio very much. She had a tough life and there were also cultural reasons.
“She represents a lot of conflict. She didn’t speak to them for two years because she was so upset about the choices they had made. It was about fear and love and because she wants the best for her daughter. She had her own dreams that fell apart.
“She had come from Cuba to live in the States and then her husband suffered from Multiple Sclerosis as a result of coming into contact with Agent Orange while serving in the Vietnam War.”
It was the director, Andy Senor, who grew up knowing Gloria and her family in Miami, who chose Madalena for the role because he had seen something in her that reminded him of Gloria Fujardo.
“I kept asking Andy, what did you see in me? , and he said, it’s not your age, but I love the look of strength and experience.
“It was a huge challenge to play older and at the beginning it didn’t do much for my ego that I was going to look older but I came to see how important it was in my learning and development.
“And it’s a beautiful show not just because of all the songs and the fun but its storyline of family and relationships. And then how it relates to the political climate around the world right now.”
Gloria Estefan came over to the UK while the company were rehearsing at the Curve in Leicester and then when the show opened in London.
Madalena was able to talk to her about her mother. “She passed away two years ago by which time the show had opened in America but she didn’t want to go and see it and Gloria didn’t push it,” she says. “But she had a lot of spies who reported to her.
“It was a big responsibility that I had to honour her life and Gloria was extremely generous to me and happy with what I was doing. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Madalena has been in the UK for 18 years. She was at school studying mostly science subjects and dancing as a hobby in the evenings and on Saturdays when her life changed. “A drama school from London came for a week to run a workshop at my little dance school,” she recalls. “I didn’t know I could sing and had never done anything like this.”
But the director thought she had a special talent and invited her to go and study in London, offering a scholarship, so at the age of 15 she left home which must have been quite a wrench.
“It was weird. It never felt like I had moved to London and for the first few years it was a lot of hard work. I didn’t know anything about musicals and the West End or anything.”
She soon did, however, as her career took off.She recently played the role of Giulietta in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love at Southwark Playhouse, and reprised the title role in Evita, a part she played on tour and at the Dominion Theatre back in 2014.It hasn’t all been Hispanic roles, however, as appearances as Fantine in the 25th Anniversary Tour of Les Miserables and Lucy in Jekyll and Hyde attest.“I have been able to play across the board but sometimes I look more Latin and probably wouldn”t be cast in something like Mary Poppins,” she reflects. “But things are moving towards diversity and producers and directors are going for looks you don’t expect”
On Your Feet is at the Sheffield Lyceum from Tuesday to Saturday, October 15-19.