Onstage & Backstage: How Did Ana Villafañe Get Cast as Gloria Estefan?

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: How Did Ana Villafañe Get Cast as Gloria Estefan? This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth gets all the scoop from Ana Villafañe and Andréa Burns about getting cast in On Your Feet! and working with Gloria Estefan.
Seth Rudetsky and Andrea Burns
Seth Rudetsky and Andrea Burns

Hola! Yes, I took Spanish in high school and can still haul it out. And by “haul it out” I mean “-ER” verbs and only in the present tense. Anyhoo, I’m feeling español-esque because this week I got to hang out with the two leading ladies from On Your Feet! Both Ana Villafañe, who plays Gloria Estefan, and Andréa Burns, who plays her mom, guested on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show. Speaking of Andréa and español, I am so obsessed with the song she did with Janet Dacal and Lin-Manuel Miranda for Carols for a Cure, the CD that comes out every year for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. You can order the whole thing here BroadwayCares.org and/or listen to it here:

I love that harmony!

Both Andréa and Ana are from Florida, and, during the interview, Ana mentioned a friend of hers who came to New York and got work. Knowing that made Ana feel that she, too, could make it. I’m always hearing about people who grew up around the country and needed some kind of proof they could actually come to New York and have a career. I stopped the interview for a moment and announced to my national audience that anybody can come to Broadway and make it! I wanted to tell all the aspiring kids listening out there to stop waiting for empirical evidence. Any of them can move here! Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a great song about a girl from Miami, who is looking for encouragement from another Miami girl, who made it on Broadway. It’s called “BTW Write Back,” and it’s from Andréa’s first CD A Deeper Shade of Red. I love it! Here’s my deconstruction:

The difference between Andréa and Ana is that Andréa went to a performing arts high school in Miami. Ana wanted to go to an arts school… but her parents made her attend a Catholic high school instead. However, it all paid off for her current job because it’s the same high school Gloria Estefan went to! I’m sure it saved her time on her pre-show character analysis work.

When she was in school, Ana dreamed of being on Broadway, but when she was 17 a talent scout saw her play Grizabella and advised her to move to L.A.—which she did. She was doing film and TV for years, but then heard about On Your Feet! She knew the role of Gloria was right for her and told her managers that if they didn’t get her seen for the show, she would drop them! There was someone else playing Gloria in the initial readings, but the creative team was looking for someone new. Ana sent in a video and they immediately flew her to NYC. A few days later she had her final call back and got there way before her time. The woman who was supposed to audition wasn’t there yet so they asked Ana if she wanted to go early. Uh-oh! She had the kind of quandary of “Wait…I wasn’t planning on going this early! Am I ready? But…what if I shouldn’t wait? Maybe I’m supposed to go early and I’ll get the role only if I accept this challenge.” She decided that it was meant to be for her to go early, and if she didn’t she would lose the part. Of course, it was all that kind of crazy thinking you do when you’re under pressure…but it worked!

Ana Villafañe
Ana Villafañe

She literally found out later that day that she booked it! I asked her if she got the role for the workshop or the workshop and the Broadway show. She said her contract said it was only for the workshop and then joked that the workshop “was no pressure. Just a three week audition.” Exactly! However, a part of her must have known they were going to use her for Broadway because before the three week workshop, she officially moved from L.A. to NYC. She told us that right before rehearsals began, Gloria and her husband Emilio took her out to dinner in Miami. Gloria told her exactly how to talk like her, walk like her and emphasized that Ana had to practice every line in front of her to make sure it sounded exactly like vintage Estefan. Actually, not at all. The only thing Gloria asked is that Ana sing the songs as written and didn’t add extra notes/riffs/melody changes. AKA the show is called On Your Feet! not On Your American Idol. Ana said Gloria and Emilio have been involved the whole process of the show and been incredibly gracious and generous. While Ana got to see Gloria up close and personal all the time, Andréa has yet to meet Gloria’s mom. Basically, when she’d ask what her mom is like, everyone who knows her will simply say “Wow” or “She’s a strong lady” or simply exhale. It was this video from Entertainment Tonight that helped Andréa really find who Gloria’s mom is:

Andréa gets to have every moment possible in the show: She sings up a storm, has so many funny lines, gets full dramatic darkness and, most exciting for me, she has a major dance number! Andréa’s first job was as a dancer (doing America in the amazing European West Side Story tour), but she hasn’t gotten to really dance since. Our old friend Billy Porter came to see On Your Feet! and sassed her by saying, “I love how now that you’re 100 years old, you finally get to twirl.” Hilarious! By the way, when I saw On Your Feet!, I gave Andréa a jacket that was given to everyone who worked on The Comeback, one of our favorite TV shows. Here she is modeling it, and if you know the hilarious Comeback, you’ll recognize that we’re in Valerie Cherish’s (Lisa Kudrow’) needy yoga pose.

Seth Rudetsky and Andréa Burns
Seth Rudetsky and Andréa Burns

OK! We’re now in our second week of Disaster! It’s been so fun. We’ve made a series of videos that I keep forgetting to put in the column. Here’s the hilarious/bizarre one about Rachel York having her face surgically removed to stay beautiful. (It's the third video in the list!)

Speaking of Disaster!, my discount code only works until the end of March, so use it or lose it! Put in NED1 at Ticketmaster, and now peace out!!