What Ana Villafañe Really Thinks of Playing Gloria Estefan in New Broadway Musical On Your Feet
Look who's on their feet, making it happen! Latin music sensations Gloria and Emilio Estefan are bringing their life story to Broadway this fall with the musical On Your Feet, and casting has been a tightly-kept secret since first announcing the show last April—until now. This morning, producers from the show revealed that Miami native Ana Villafañe will take on the role of Gloria, and we caught up with the Cuban-American actress when she stopped by InStyle’s New York office just before the news became official.
“I feel a very big responsibility to portray her in a real way,” Villafañe said. “I don’t think you can actually replicate Gloria Estefan—you can only do your best to tell her story and be true to the music.” She'll have a lot to draw from: Her own background is similar to Estefan's (Villafañe attended the same Miami high school, Our Lady of Lourdes Academy) and she has studied Estefan's career for years. “I grew up performing her music at talent shows," she said. "‘Reach’ was the first song I ever sang in public when I was 9 years old. That’s what we would jam to on our way to school.”
So when she met her idol for the first time during auditions for the play, Villafañe had to keep herself in check. “It was an out-of-body experience to be portraying her when she was in the room; it was just kind of surreal,” Villafañe said. Working with Estefan during rehearsals was equally inspiring. “On one side of my brain, I’d be working and taking notes about everything she tells me, and the other side of my brain I’m like, ‘Oh my god, you’re in a little room singing with Gloria Estefan right now,” she said. “It’s those moments where you’re kind of like, ‘Is this real?’”
Oh, but it is. And Villafañe has the curly-haired Gloria wigs to prove it. “The moment I put that thing on, it’s just an immediate transformation—it takes me to a completely different place and I just feel that connection,” she said. To further channel Estefan, Villafañe will sport floral outfits on stage and, of course, a pair of chaps.
Teased hair and '90s costumes aside, Villafañe and Estefan have bonded plenty. “She’s really taken me under her wing,” said Villafañe. “One day, I called her just to ask for music recommendations, because I like to make playlists for each character that I play,” she said. Estefan gave tips based on songs that inspired her own music, “so now I’ve been listening to all these old songs, from Cuban classics to The Beatles.” And the pair’s chats don’t stop at phone calls. “She’ll text me with emojis, like the winky face with the heart, which is still so crazy to me,” said Villafañe. “She’s just so cool.”
On Your Feet kicks off with a five-week engagement in Chicago this summer. It will officially open on Broadway Nov. 5, with preview performances starting on Oct. 5. For tickets, head to ticketmaster.com. Villafañe will also star in Max Steel, a sci-fi action film due out later this year.