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On Your Feet - Christie Prades interview (exclusive)

Christie Prades

Interview by Rob Carnevale

CHRISTIE Prades talks about playing legendary singer Gloria Estefan in On Your Feet at the London Coliseum (until August 31, 2019), and what it was like to work with her idol, learn about their shared Cuban history and trying to make her cry every night.

She also looks back on her own career, receiving some early advice from Hamilton‘s Lin-Manuel Miranda, being a small part of the Orange Is The New Black TV show and why she likes to always surround herself with family and the people who knew her before she was famous.

Q. How has your West End debut in On Your Feet been so far?
Christie Prades: I’m loving it! When I first came here, everyone said that audiences were more reserved and have a theatre etiquette going on. But with our show, we’ve been able to break all the rules and get people involved from the beginning. It’s so wonderful to see them loosen up from the beginning.

Q. What do you like about playing Gloria Estefan?
Christie Prades: I feel like I also get to represent myself when I’m playing her. I’m Cuban-American, I’m from Miami… I’m totally representing myself. It enables me to give an honest reaction to every situation shown on stage. And that’s very rare because as actors, we’re quite often being asked to represent something or someone that we’re not. So, with this I get to play me vicariously through Gloria.

Q. But was there something you found particularly challenging about playing Gloria?
Christie Prades: I think her sound is so specific. She says she doesn’t know what she sounds like, but she knows what she doesn’t sound like, if you know what I mean? That means there’s a specific sound that people are coming to hear every night. So, I think that’s the challenging thing… aside from doing eight shows a week; doing it night after night and keeping the same energy and the same kind of momentum. It’s a marathon – but an enjoyable one.

Q. Is there anything you do to mix it up, to keep things fresh, while bearing in mind that you have to keep to that specific sound?
Christie Prades: I try to interpret it and put my sound on it. But people are coming to see the authenticity and so I keep the sound consistent, so that people listening can say: “For sure, that’s Gloria!”

Q. I gather that taking On Your Feet allowed you to have greater access to Gloria and Estefan?
Christie Prades: Well, when I first did the show on Broadway I was the first cover [or under study], so I played her a lot. However, I didn’t have the chance to really get to know her until the national tour. With that, we really started from the ground up again, so she was very much involved. So, I got to speak to her about her intentions within each scene, to hear her back story, and insights into her thinking, her upbringing and what she feels about her family. I really got to know the incredible woman she is as well as the foundation of who she is. And that was an incredible privilege.

Q. Was there anything that really stood out for you?
Christie Prades: I think some of the things she told me about her family and her past. The show is very much driven on family and where her relationships come, whether it’s with her mother or with Estefan. So, those sessions enabled her to let me know about her family dynamic and the dynamic she shares with Emilio. It was fascinating to see how they interact with each other on a daily basis and it gave me a real insight on how to portray her.

Q. What’s the best feedback or commentary she’s given you?
Christie Prades: Well, I always love it when I see her after the show, because if she’s red from crying, I can tell I’ve done a good job [laughs]. She’s always puffy and red afterwards, and she’ll tell me: “Damn it Christie, you’ve made me cry again!” I certainly break down every show. So, if I see her do the same, then I know she’s feeling something. And she’s honest. She won’t beat around the bush when it comes to saying what’s on her mind.

Q. You seem to have a really close relationship with her now. How did that compare to when you first had to audition in front of Gloria and Estefan? Were you nervous?
Christie Prades: Well, I didn’t really spend a lot of time talking to them, but she gave me really good energy. They both kept looking at each other and nodding and smiling during the audition, so I figured I must have been doing something right. But because I didn’t know her so much then, on a personal level, I was just being me. I thought I should bring some of my Miami flavour, and some of my Cuban culture, and I thought, ‘if she likes it, then we’ll go from there’.

Q. Do you talk to each other much about Cuba?
Christie Prades: We do and we both get very upset about that. Her dad was a police officer for President Batista’s regime before Castro’s revolution. He then served in the Vietnam war. So, she’s very knowledgeable about Cuba. And so am I. My parents emigrated in the ’70s. So, we would share stories about our family and what we know of our country.

Q. I know talking about Cuba makes you sad. Is it still in your plan to get there one day?
Christie Prades: It definitely is. I would be being unfair to myself if I didn’t go and touch the land of my family. But I know it wll be more of a history lesson, to see where my parents grew up, rather than a holiday. I’m hoping that I can go with my brother so that we can learn the realities of how my parents grew up and what Cuba is like now.

Q. Do you find the multi-cultural nature of the ensemble cast to be inspiring as well?
Christie Prades: Yeah, absolutely. This show really inspired me in the sense that I saw myself on stage for the first time – my true self. And I think that no matter where you come from, anywhere in world, you can see yourself within Gloria’s story: the struggles of family, being part of a culture, learning from your mistakes and tribulations. And within that you can see that people, when they are a part of this show, can feel a sense of pride… that they’re representing their culture. It makes it feel special. People relate to real life stories and real life situations and that’s what I love to be a vessel in.

Q. You started dancing at the age of three and singing from the age of five. Has performing always been a part of your blood? And what first made you realise this was going to be the case?
Christie Prades: Well, I have to say that I’m actually really excited because this weekend I get to see Celine Dion! She is the one woman that I would always listen to and started singing at a young age. So, she was an early inspiration for me. But coming back to your question, I never felt like I was just doing it for fun, I was doing it because I loved it. It was always a part of my life. I studied it and it was my high. It was where I wanted to be… on stage. That fire was always in me. And I thank my mum a lot for pushing me to sing wherever we went. If it wasn’t for her – her support and encouragement – I would never have had the confidence and the support to keep going.

Christie Prades

Q. So, at what point did you think ‘this is it, this is what I’m going to do’, rather than taking up journalism, which you were studying too?
Christie Prades: Yeah, I was studying journalism in college and I got accepted for a Bachelors at the University of Miami and got a full scholarship. That was a dream come true as well. But I thought that if I didn’t give this a shot, and give 100%, then it’s not going to happen. I would always be questioning ‘what if’. So, I decided to take a break and gave myself a five-year plan to go to New York and see if I could make it happen, otherwise it would always have been a huge regret in my life.

Q. And how much did the early advice you got from Hamilton writer Lin-Manuel Miranda help with furthering your early career, while you were in his show In The Heights?
Christie Prades: I was part of his show, In The Heights, in Miami, during which half of the Broadway cast had come down. He had always dreamt of bringing it to Miami. So, he came and saw me play Vanessa and pulled me aside, during the intermission, and told me to go to New York and really do this, to give it a shot. He said ‘you have somethig here, you have something very special’. And that really resonated with me and pushed me towards something: I loved the feeling of being told I had something special, so it really pushed me to follow his advice and go to New York.

Q. When you hear things like that at such a young age, do you have to work hard to keep yourself grounded? To not get too carried away….?
Christie Prades: Absolutely. And that’s why I always stay surrounded by my foundation, which is my family. I have my parents, who always protect me and make sure that I never forget where I’ve come from. They always remind me to be kind. I think it can be easy for your head to explode with ego. So, it’s important to stay grounded and to keep in touch with the people who knew who you were before anything changed. So, I always try and maintain those relationships, whether it’s with my brother, my grandma, my parents… the people who made this happen.

Q. You’ve also tip toed in acting away from musical performance, with roles in the Sundance hit If Only You Knew and a guest appearance in Orange Is The New Black. Is that something you’d like to do more of?
Christie Prades: I will see. I definitely want to be part of an original show, and film and TV always has always been a passion of mine to. I’m closely connected to the lens. It gives me another high and it’s another artistry I’d like to tap into on a deeper level going forward. So, I’m definitely interested in that.

Q. How was being a small part of the Orange Is The New Black ensemble?
Christie Prades: It was wonderful. The whole team is fantastic and I got to work with a female director, which was really, really cool. Everyone was so sweet and patient. It felt like a family on-set and it was nice to be a part of that community. When you watch the show itself, it’s so rugged and raw. But when you’re in the creative process, I can understand why they seem so natural on-screen. The team makes you feel so comfortable. Yet, they’re so focused on making each shot work. You feel that energy and you can witness how, by creating such a close knit relationship between the scenes, they transfer that relationship and that energy into the show itself.

Q. You have also appeared in a stage version of West Side Story. So, are you excited by the prospect of Steven Spielberg’s new take on it, given how hard he has worked to make the cast so ethnically authentic?
Q. Christie Prades: For sure. So many of my friends in that cast are members of the cast from my tour. I’m so proud that my community is being represented and that he is choosing authenticity and choosing my friends. If I’d been in the States, he would have chosen me. So, I’m really excited to see what Spielberg is going to do with it.

Q. Finally, what’s the best piece of feedback or praise you’ve been given so far in your career?
Christie Prades: Oh wow, let me think… I really appreciate it when someone says you have something special. It started with my parents, then went to Lin and now comes from people who see the show. I don’t even know what that [‘special’] means necessarily, but to hear them say you have something special means the world. So, I take that very graciously and with a lot of pride.

On Your Feet will be at the London Coliseum until August 31, 2019.

Book tickets here or call the box office on 020 7845 9300.

Photos kindly supplied by Joseph Sinclair.