Talk about ones to watch; Ana Villafañe might be the new kid on the block on Broadway, but this is only the beginning for the triple-threat beauty. Ana will be playing one of her lifelong idols, seven-time Grammy winner Gloria Estefan in the upcoming musical “On Your Feet!” It's not for no reason that casting director Jerry Mitchell and the Estefans say they had an instant connection with Villafañe, (who attended the same high school as Gloria). “She walked into the room, and I immediately thought to myself - 'this is it'. Not only was she beautifully reminiscent of a young Gloria, but she embodied her energy and spirit in such a captivating way. And then she fully rose to the occasion by giving a sensational audition,” Mitchell explained. And captivating she is.
We sat down to talk with Ana about what her experience has been like (with two months of previews in Chicago), and the hard work she’s put in to transform into one of the biggest musical icons of all time.
Latin Times: Can you describe the feeling of being ‘the chosen one’ to play Gloria?
Ana Villafañe: Well, I cried like a baby when I got the phone call, which was 40 minutes after leaving the last audition. But lately it’s been hitting me more and more what a symbol they are for our culture, so I’ve been feeling that excitement in my gut get bigger every day.
LT: So what happens next? How do you start your transformation into Gloria?
AV: It actually started before. As soon as I knew I had the audition I started to work on it because she has a very specific performance style. From the sound of her voice, her iconic moves, to the way she connects with her fans when she’s onstage; her style is effortless, so I really wanted to do that justice.
LT: What’s been the hardest part so far?
AV: I think the music, although she’s helped immensely with the voice. I have a degree in music and one of the classes is specifically to learn how to listen. Listening is the key to be able to recreate a sound. You want to be able to adopt a certain style of singing more than to imitate it. And her fans know exactly what she sounds like, so I have to be able to give that to them.
LT: I’m always blown away by the level of energy in every Broadway performance. How do you guys do it every night?
AV: I’m not sure! I just met Katina Miller, who just won the Tony for “Pipen,” and she told me that if you train like you would for a marathon and treat it that way, your body’s muscle memory will just kick in. But also for me, as soon as I hear the first drum crash of “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” it just takes over and something happens; it’s like a switch that turns on when the curtains open and you feel the lights.
LT: But what if you have a bad day?
AV: That definitely happens. There’s days when your body is hurting; I absolutely worship the dancers. Their bodies go through so much and they do it eight days a week. But yeah, there’s definitely days when you have to push through. I do a lot of yoga, and you learn different techniques to stretch. I also learned to warm up and cool down my voice. There’s definitely a whole new lifestyle you have to adopt.
LT: What’s your favorite part of the show?
AV: I think it might be “Tradición” right now. But it depends on the day. “Tradición” is such a celebration, and we drink café cubano that we make there every day, so we have an inside joke that that’s the song where we start feeling the caffeine, and it’s a gunshot, the rest of the show just flies by.
LT: What’s the best advice you’ve gotten from Emilio and Gloria?
AV: Emilio is so wise; I always say ‘he speaks in Fortune Cookies,’ because everything he says should be written in a book. I have a long list of drafts on my Twitter with his quotes. One of my favorites is, 'You have one life, one chance to do it right.' But he just said that in the middle of a normal conversation. It’s very inspiring to be around them and to see them live their lives like that. And as for Gloria, she’s a rockstar; so laid back, normal and so maternal. She’s given me a lot of advice on how to stay grounded, and I think that's why she’s so successful, because she hasn’t lost herself. They’ve always remained true to who they are, their culture, themselves as a couple and as individuals. Gloria never had to go through different chapters and reinvent herself constantly. She's the true diva, without acting like one.
LT: I can imagine this being the absolute dream role already, but who would you want to play in the future?
AV: Honestly, I try to take things as they come and even with this, I could’ve never imagined a role so perfect. A story which is not only about her, but she drives it. She is no one’s puppet and I get to play Gloria from 17 to 33, which is another privilege because it’s so many roles in one. So I have no idea what could come in the future but I certainly hope it’s something along the lines of this.
LT: What advice would you give anyone who’s pursuing a career in entertainment but is ready to give up?
AV: I guess to know that you can always change people’s minds. I’ve auditioned for roles where they were looking for something completely different and convinced them otherwise. But you have to put in the work, do your homework, train and be the best you can be. Remember, there’s a chance out there for everyone when ‘no’ is not an option.
On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan
A Cuban spirit, An American DreamA brand new Broadway musical!The music that moved a generation,The story that will inspire a new one!On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan Tickets on sale now at www.ticketmaster.com
Posted by Gloria Estefan on Tuesday, September 15, 2015