Actor, singer, musician and more Devon Goffman brings his talents to Detroit with On Your Feet!
In a musical that celebrates the achievements of Cuban immigrants and the Cuban-Latin music they introduced to American audiences, Devon Goffman plays a Jewish role.
He is record producer Phil in On Your Feet!, the show defining the hurdles and successes of singer-songwriter and seven-time Grammy winner Gloria Estefan and her husband, producer-musician Emilio Estefan — a 19-time Grammy winner.
Goffman, who also takes on a second role as a doctor and appears in show-stopping numbers with the ensemble, is returning to Detroit, where he has toured with Motown the Musical and Jersey Boys. He settles in May 1-13 at the Fisher Theatre.
“Phil is portrayed as one of the big helpers for Emilio and Gloria,” says Goffman, whose character’s essence draws from a combination of people.
“At first, he’s an obstacle for them. Through time, they twist Phil’s arm to overcome his small-mindedness about whether they could sing in English and cross over into American pop culture.
“I did my own online research into the music, rhythms and record producers of the time because Phil is my major role.”
In the second act, Goffman becomes Dr. Michael Neuwirth, who gets Gloria “on her feet” by repairing spinal injuries suffered in a road accident. Because the show is very ensemble-oriented, Goffman can be seen as others in upbeat singing and dancing routines reaching into the finale.
Feeling inspired by the songs, Goffman especially relates to “Reach” and “Coming Out of the Dark.” The first recalls the supportive letters sent to Gloria in the hospital. The second invokes her return to the stage.
Estefan hits also featured include “Get on Your Feet,” “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” “Conga” and “Mi Tierra.”
“Often people don’t recognize me after the show when I’m collecting for Broadway Cares [in support of AIDS causes],” Goffman says about his appearance when taking on each part. “They ask if I was one of the dancers. I guess my presence changes when I’m in a suit as Phil or in a lab coat as the doctor.
“This play is very authentic and I’m a big fan of the music. Five members of the original Miami Sound Machine play on stage. Our musical director, Clay Ostwald, was Gloria’s pianist and co-wrote the song ‘On Your Feet.’
“Gloria and Emilio are wonderful people. I’ve gotten to spend time with them because they come to see the show pretty regularly. They’re hilarious together, just as they are in the script. They’re very loving, and that is expressed through their music.”
Goffman’s introduction to performing music came through his dad, who played guitar and encouraged his son to do the same in middle school.
“I also play the upright bass, some piano and some trombone,” says the 30-something actor.
“I started doing musical theater in middle school while growing up in Buffalo. The World According to Snoopy was my first school musical, and I loved being part of a cast working together to put on a show. It was an accepting community of people and helped me come out of my shell.”
While studying music education at SUNY Fredonia, Goffman performed in summer musicals. After seeking career advice from a director, he decided to focus on a musical theater curriculum before moving to New York and auditioning.
His first national tour was The Buddy Holly Story, followed by the first tour of Motown the Musical, which launched in Detroit.
“When we opened in Detroit with Berry Gordy, Stevie Wonder came up on stage and sang with us,” Goffman recalls. “That was pretty cool.”
Goffman shares his love for musical theater with his wife, Katie, who was the lead in the first national tour of Ghost the Musical and the second national tour of Rock of Ages. The two, who met at an audition, wrote and produced Wisco Queens, a five-episode YouTube series about moving from Wisconsin to New York. She’s the star, and he’s the music writer.
“On Your Feet is about family, music and carrying on traditions,” says Goffman, who has shared his Jewish traditions through Chanukah celebrations with touring cast members. “Every culture has the same common threads.”
Some of those threads were heard as the Fiddler on the Roof score often rang out over a player piano in his Buffalo home. Fiddler was the first show his mom took him to see, starring Topol as Tevye — and Goffman performed in a high-school production of Fiddler.
“Judaism has helped me want to fight bigotry, and I’m inspired to tell the On Your Feet! story because of everything that’s going on politically,” Goffman says. “It’s important that we spread a message of love and taking care of each other, including people who come from other nations.”
On Your Feet runs May 1-13 at the Fisher Theatre. Tickets start at $39. (313) 872-1000; broadwayindetroit.com.