Q&A with Debra Cardona of the hit Gloria Estefan Musical, On Your Feet!

-cover photo by Matthew Murphy

Next week, On Your Feet!, the jukebox musical that tells the story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan, comes to the Kimmel Center’s Academy of Music. With music and lyrics by the Estefans, On Your Feet! invites audiences to experience this couple’s journey from Cuba to America. Ups and downs, topping the pop charts, and almost losing everything, this is the true story of a resilient, record-making couple who always found a way to get up on their feet again.

Debra Cardona as Abuela Consuela


The Broadway show is now on tour and actress Debra Cardona plays Gloria’s loving and supportive abuela (grandmother). The relationship between the two is a very important storyline as Consuela encouraged Gloria to pursue her career as an entertainer. Cardona channeled her own grandmothers for inspiration and talks to us about the role of Consuela, the tour, and what she’d like to do while in Philadelphia!

Q: As a very experienced theatre actress, what have been some of your favorite roles to date?
A: I’ve been lucky and done a lot of different roles over the years, but my absolute favorite roles so far have been Emma Goldman (Ragtime), Abuela Claudia (In the Heights), and my present role, Abuela Consuelo.

Q: Tell me a bit about your role in On Your Feet! as Consuelo; how are you similar to this character? What did you do to prepare for the role?
A: Consuelo was Gloria Estefan’s abuela (grandmother), who during the course of the play (and in real life) was very instrumental in giving Gloria the little push she needed in order to realize that music was her true calling.

What I adore about Consuelo is that she has so much love for her granddaughter and always, always has her back. She’s like a guardian angel. That is exactly how I felt about both of my own grandmothers. So, I am trying to channel those women when I play the role. How am I similar to Consuelo? I think I have Consuelo’s warmth, I care about the things and people I love very deeply and I enjoying having a good laugh.

To prepare for the role I talked with some of the original Broadway cast about the stories the Estefans told about their family (the Estefans have been incredibly supportive of the project and very generous with their time), and I found whatever I could on the internet about Consuelo. There’s not a lot, but I came across something that Gloria Estefan wrote about her grandmother. She considered Consuelo a mentor who pointed out her strengths, who encouraged her to find out what made her happy and then to do it with all her joy and energy. I keep that in mind and endeavor to bring all my joy and energy to the part when I am playing Consuelo.

Q: Have you met Gloria Estefan and/or her husband Emilio? Did they give you any advice for this performance?
A: I haven’t had the opportunity to meet the Estefans in person yet, since I’ve only been with the touring company for a short time. (I replaced Alma Cuervo, who originated the role on Broadway.) However, they will definitely be coming to the show when we are in Los Angeles, and Gloria has offered to have a FaceTime meeting with me so that we can talk about Consuelo. I am so looking forward to it.

Q: We’re so excited to have this show come to Philly! Is there anything you’re excited to check out while here next week?
A: Lots! I’m dying to run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art like Rocky, and to visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. I’d also like to check out the zoo and the Rodin Museum. There’s a great Cuban restaurant in Rittenhouse Square called Alma de Cuba that I’m definitely trying while I’m there, and maybe I’ll have a cheesesteak or two.

Q: On Your Feet! will be touring for a while, are there any stops you are looking forward to visiting the most?
A: The show is playing a lot of great cities. After Philly we go to Boston, which is one of my favorite places. We also get to spend four weeks in Los Angeles and San Francisco. New Orleans is on the schedule for 2019.

Q: What’s your favorite song from On Your Feet!?
A: Oh, there are so many good ones. But, I’d have to say, “Conga!”. When you see the show, you will see why.

Q: You were currently seen on the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend– a binge worthy show for sure! What’s the last show you binged?
A: I LOVE Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I was a huge fan of the show before I got cast as Estella, Hector’s mom. My last binge was the reboot of One Day at a Time (Netflix). I adore Justina Machado as the mother, and casting Rita Moreno as the abuela is absolute genius. She steals every single episode. Oh, and the Estefans did a new arrangement of the theme song, “This Is It,” with Gloria doing the vocals!

Q: What’s other projects are you working on at the moment? Where can we see you next?
A: On Your Feet! is the only project I’m working on right now. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has just been renewed for a fourth season, so I really hope that Hector’s mom will get to be in another episode. Keeping my fingers crossed!

On Your Feet! runs from April 10th to the 15th. Tickets can be purchased here.

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