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The national tour of the Broadway musical "Hamilton" will play at the Des Moines Civic Center as part of the Willis Broadway Series during the 2017-2018 season.

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Alexander Dinelaris didn’t walk into his first conversation with Gloria and Emilio Estefan knowing he’d leave ready to tell the couple’s story in a jukebox musical.

He spent that conversation digging deep into the Latin pop pioneers’ story.

“What was your biggest fear?” he asked Gloria Estefan, discussing with the Kennedy Center honoree her teenage years of caring for her dying father.

“Everyone sort-of got tense at the table but Gloria never flinched,” he recalled. “She looked straight at me and she said ‘I was afraid he’d never die.’”

The answer struck him, emotionally.

“It was such an unbelievably honest answer, having gone through that with my father,” Dinelaris, who lost his father to pancreatic cancer, said. “That was the moment I (thought) ‘Geez .. I have to do this.”

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Dinelaris, the Golden Globe and Academy Award-winning “Birdman” screenwriter, went on to pen the script for “On Your Feet!,” a 2016 Tony Award-nominated musical that takes audiences through the Estefans' story of love, inspiration and infectious pop music.

The show runs Feb. 20-25 at the Des Moines Civic Center.

Dinelaris spent about nine months researching and writing a first draft of “On Your Feet!”  

His biggest challenge? Finding where to place each of the 26 songs performed in the show’s two acts. Staple Miami Sound Machine hits like “Conga” and “Rhythm is Gonna Get You” make it into the show, as do deeper Estefan cuts, like “When Someone Comes Into Your Life.” 

“We didn’t want to stop the story for a song constantly,” he said.

The music doesn’t follow the Estefans' story chronologically — a song from the 1990s could be placed in a scene from the 1970s, for example. Instead, Dinelaris said he wanted to use the music to push the plot forward.

The touring band boasts five members of the Miami Sound Machine, including keyboardist and “On Your Feet!” music director Clay Ostwald. Joining the group in 1987, Ostwald has produced and co-wrote a number of Gloria Estefan tracks — including the musical’s title number, “Get on your Feet.”  

It’s been fun, Ostwald said, to see fans new and old connect with the music through Broadway. Gloria and daughter Emily Estefan wrote an original number for the show, “If I Never Got To Tell You.”

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“Our songs, when we wrote them, we felt like (they) were meaningful,”  Ostwald said. “So to have them mean something now is validating to us; it feels good. It’s a great joy to have audiences get that again.”

“On Your Feet!” is meant to be a joyous experience, but — with immigration at the forefront of the political climate — it can still emotionally tear at an audience. Telling the life story of two Cuban Americans who shaped the landscape of popular music is, Ostwald said, telling the story of the American dream.

“This is a cast that’s 98 percent Hispanic,” Ostwald said. “It’s a real, shared story for a lot of people.”

Or, as Dinelaris put it: “People expect to go into this musical to have a great time and do the conga, which I hope they do. I don't think they're expecting to cry or get goosebumps … but that tends to happen as well.”

Still, when “Conga” does kick in, it’s about celebrating the music fans off the last three-plus decades have come to adore.  

“It’s about family and it has Latin music,” Dinelaris said. “You just feel good.”

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"On Your Feet!"

When: Feb. 20-25; matinee shows on Feb. 24 and 25.

Where: Des Moines Civc Center, 221 Walnut Street. 

Price: $35-$135. 

More information: dmpa.org.

 

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