At Proctors: For Mexican-born "On Your Feet" co-star, Mauricio Martinez, the American Dream is alive and well

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — During the musical "On Your Feet" a record producer refuses to permit Gloria and Emilio Estefan to record a new song in English. He claims their appeal is only to Latin audiences. The producer says they are not American enough to cross over to the mainstream market.

In what is the most crowd-pleasing moment in a show filled with crowd-pleasing moments, Emilio turns to the producer and says, "You should look very closely at my face, because whether you know it or not, this is the what an American face looks like."

In the national tour of "On Your Feet," which plays Proctors in for eight performances Wednesday through Sunday, Emilio is played by Mauricio Martinez. In a recent telephone interview,Martinez said he tears up almost every time he delivers those lines. "The American Dream is still possible. It's alive and well. I am Latin, a Mexican, an immigrant and I am living the American dream," he says.

He believes the theme of acceptance of "outsiders" has a special resonance in today's political climate. Martinez has been on the road with "On Your Feet" for seven months. Besides their opening in Miami, where the Miami Sound Machine started, his most memorable stop was Washington, DC with the entire Estefan family in the audience.

"We played there in the middle of a government shutdown," he said. "There was a lot of tension in the city, but inside the theater was warm and welcoming. Here I am, a Mexican immigrant playing a show that speaks to the acceptance of those talented individuals born outside the country. The audience was so thrilled with the show, the music, the story — it was inspiring."

Martinez says his own story makes him feel especially connected to the Cuban couple. They struggled for years to be able to record in English, confident that their talent and the Latin rhythms of the music would appeal to all segments of the American public.

They were right. They won 26 Grammy Awards and were one of the most popular groups in the country for decades. "On Your Feet" illustrates the durability of their sound as the title of the show describes the audience reaction to their music.

Martinez points out "On Your Feet" is not only a story about a band's success. It is also a story about resilience and determination and how they fought to come back after a life-threatening automobile accident that threatened to leave Gloria paralyzed. "I have been fortunate to meet them, and it is difficult to express how much I admire them both. I hope my performance makes it clear that they are special people."

Martinez is a major star in Mexico, his country of birth. He stars in the NBC Universo's series, "El Vato," (which is available on Netflix) and has been the lead in 14 Broadway musicals, among them "Beauty and the Beast," "Saturday Night Fever" and "Drowsy Chaperone." However, they all performed in Spanish, outside the United States.

"Growing up I always dreamed of this place called Broadway, even though I had no idea where it was," he says with a chuckle. In 1998, when he turned 18, he not only learned that Broadway was located in New York City, he prepared to perform there by studying at American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA).

But as fate would have it, after spending three years learning his craft, circumstances forced him to return to Mexico, where he continued to perform. Finishing third on the country's version of "American Idol" brought him to the attention of producers. Starring roles in stage musicals and a television series followed.

It wasn't until 2016 that he got his United States break. He was cast by Kansas City Repertory to play Che in their production of "Evita." His performance was so acclaimed it brought him to the attention of New York producers. He was offered the role of Emilio Estefan for the national tour and, best of all, he played the role on Broadway for the last six weeks of the run.     

Martinez says he feels blessed with the success he's had on tour. "It's all happening at the right time. I'm prepared and ready for the next phase of my career. This role is introducing me to audiences all over the country. People are buying my CDs after the show and are finding my television series on cable."

Martinez has been performing in this country on a work visa and has now applied for his Green Card. It's his next step in fulfilling the American Dream.


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