For The New York Times Writing by: John Leland and Photos by: Jackie Molloy
Published Aug. 23, 2017
The musical “On Your Feet!” did the conga on Broadway last Sunday for the 746th and final time. For its male star, Ektor Rivera, it was a day of turmoil – goodbyes to crew and cast members, some final salsa moves in his character’s clothes (he kept a pair of shoes), and a swift and unsentimental cleanup of all personal items, including a small rug, a Puerto Rican flag and two paintings. Oh, plus one more show and a serious after-party.
The musical, which will soon embark on a national tour without Mr. Rivera, follows the real-life rise of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, and includes a crowd-pleasing scene in which Emilio tells off a skeptical Anglo music executive: “This is what an American looks like.” During the final performance, this line “got the longest applause,” said Mr. Rivera, who wore a T-shirt with the phrase while he was packing up his temporary home 24 hours later.
Mr. Rivera had just a few days to clear out the one-room apartment where he has lived since he joined the cast last July, including selling the apartment’s contents on Craigslist. Even when you’re a Broadway star, he learned, New Yorkers will haggle with you. What follows are some of Mr. Rivera’s thoughts on his first Broadway show coming to an end, edited for clarity.
“I love walking to the theater. So the really core fans, when I came by, knowing that it was my final show, a bunch of those people were there. One of the girls had been there 120 times. I’m not even inside the theater and I receive all that emotion. They put on their best clothes and everything. It was beautiful. People are giving love and paying for a ticket that is not cheap.” Ektor Rivera is met by a group of fans before his last performance as Emilio Estefan on broadways musical, "On Your Feet!" Some of the fans had seen the show over 50 times.
“Then when I go to the dressing room, everyone is giving cards and kissing each other. Somebody’s crying, somebody’s excited. The doorman told me I have to remove everything from the dressing room immediately after the show.”
“I cried a lot with the kids. I told them, maybe we will not see each other again. We’re a big family, but everyone will have their own lives and their own jobs. You get so tight, and you get huge love, and then you disappear and everything is lost.
“I got sick a week ago, so my voice was constrained. I was worried, knowing all the people that would come to the final show – the writer, the Estefans, all the fans. That was overwhelming. So I was thinking about the responsibility to do the right thing and to perform my best. I didn’t sleep well all this past week.”
“The first three rows knew every step that we do. So every step, they applauded or celebrated. It was overwhelming, but in a good way.” “This is the first show I did in New York. I didn’t know how my voice would react or my body would react, so to know that I completed the whole year, it was a mix of emotion, excitement and what is next? How will I react in that final moment? Will I crash crying? It was in my head the whole day. At the final moment of the show, to see all the audience and the happiness of the people, to see Emilio and Gloria crying on the stage — it was an immense party.”
“I didn’t make a speech. My first language is Spanish. So if I’m nervous and I want to cry, I think it would be a disaster to try to speak in English with an audience. So I just kept smiling and gave the attention to Emilio and Gloria. Everyone was eating and drinking a lot. A lot of crying and hugging.
And the same question: What is next for you? That is something that everyone had in their mind: What is next for you? I went to the therapist and she told me that the main thing that every performer is worried about after a show is, what is next?”