Alex Dinelaris Discovers The Surprising Inevitability Of “On Your Feet”
Alex Dinelaris confessed to being terrified when he began his research to write the book for the 2015 jukebox musical, “On Your Feet.”
The show tells how Cuban natives Gloria and Emilio Estefan became crossover, pop-music sensations in the 1980s, helping to usher in a Latin pop-music explosion. It also chronicles Gloria overcoming a horrific bus accident in 1990 that nearly took her life and required a year of rehabilitation.
Still Dinelaris, a successful Broadway playwright and an Oscar winning screenwriter for the 2014 film “Birdman,” felt there was something missing. “
When I first sat down with them (Gloria and Emilio), I said, ‘You guys are a disaster. You’re happily married for thirty years. No is hitting anybody, no one is cheating or boozing. What am I going to write about? There’s no conflict,’” Dinelaris said, laughing.
After more discussion and research, Dinelaris realized there were plenty of things about which he could write.
“Given the timing of the musical, the immigrant story is a clear one. Gloria also had some real family issues, so we also tried to make the story very much about family. She had genuine drama with her mother, who passed recently. She was a wonderful woman but strong-willed. We mined that and the immigrant story and hopefully we came up with a tapestry of the complicated lives of immigrants who dared to dream ‘The American Dream,’” Dinelaris said.
In 2016, Dinelaris gave a TED talk about Aristotle’s principle of “surprising inevitability,” which he said makes its presence felt in “On Your Feet.”
“The idea is one of an ending that is both surprising and inevitable,” he said. “It’s having the audience get to the end and say, ‘Oh my goodness, I can’t believe that happened,’ and at the same time say to themselves, ‘of course that happened, if I was paying attention, I would know everything is leading to that moment.’”
Dinelaris said that moment comes when Gloria sings “Coming out of the Dark,” which Estefan sang at the 1991 American Music Awards which marked her comeback after the bus accident.
“That song to me, not only for the redemption for the moment of Gloria, which was an amazing triumph, but also thematically for the whole thing, the immigrant story, you can say that the struggle is to come out of the dark. The problems at home with the mother and the injury itself. I started the musical the day before the bus crash and then to go back in time and run the whole story and then we end up with her singing that song. That principle came into effect with that structure,” he said.
"On Your Feet" is on-stage at Playhouse Square's Connor Palace through December 23rd, 2017
Hear Alex talk about how he fell in love with film and theatre as a child as well as the challenges of working on the screenplay for "Birdman"