Thursday, Oct. 9, 2003 | 8:22 a.m.
Gloria Estefan isn't daunted by the prospect of filling in for one of the world's most popular entertainers on a 22,450-square-foot stage in a $95-million showroom that seats 4,000.
While Celine Dion takes a few days off, the Cuban superstar will perform "Gloria Estefan Live & Unwrapped" in conjunction with the release of "Unwrapped," her first English-language album in six years.
"It's going to be fun," said Estefan, who at 46 continues to maintain a youthful appearance and a fit physique from daily workouts. "I'm looking forward to the size of this venue.
"The acoustics are wonderful. I think it will be great. This is a place where everybody in the world comes. It's a beautiful theater."
Her only concern is the tilted angle of the stage.
"It's raked," said Estefan, who has worked out rigorously since being critically injured in a bus accident 13 years ago. "I will have to really work on my quads. The biggest fear is that I will trip and roll down the stage. They'll have to put a net down there to catch me."
The concert at The Colosseum is in lieu of a "Live & Unwrapped" tour. She says she won't do a tour until possibly next summer.
"I'm too busy promoting the new album right now," Estefan said as she relaxed on a couch in a Caesars Palace suite. "I'm doing this show for the album release."
Estefan was born in Cuba in 1957. When Fidel Castro seized power in 1959 her family fled with her to Miami. She shot to the top of the charts in 1985 with the Miami Sound Machine's "Conga."
Since then she has won five Grammy Awards and sold more than 70 million albums.
In 1993 she returned to her roots with the release of "Mi Tierra," an album of traditional Cuban music.
Estefan says the timing was right for the release of her first English album since 1998's "Gloria!"
"There were several reasons," Estefan said. "Number one, I had a contract with Sony, which basically was for an English album. I brought them the Spanish side of me with 'Mi Tierra.' "
She said the music on the album was "very expressive of that culture and that part of me."
But there was also the side of her that grew up in the United States.
"We thought that there wasn't yet a seminal English-language album that really spoke to what music has been in my life on a cathartic level -- on the singers and the songwriters who were such an influence on me, like Carol King, Stevie Wonder and Cat Stevens," Estefan said.
Estefan also spoke about Castro and a variety other subjects, including '50s and '60s pop star Connie Francis.
"I've been working with Connie the last two years, writing a screenplay to her story," Estefan said. "I would love to produce it and to be Connie.
"I was always interested in her and she came to me with the idea."
Estefan says she has gotten to know Francis well over the past two years.
"There's so much depth there," she said. "I really think she hasn't gotten her due. She isn't in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, and yet she was the first pop star worldwide, recorded in nine languages. She has done a lot of things for victims' rights since her rape in the '70s (Francis was raped in 1974).
"There's a major story there, but on an intrapersonal level is where I'm really interested. She had an incredible relationship with her brother, who was taken out by the Mafia."
In addition to the Francis screenplay, Estefan has been busy on a variety of other projects that have kept her out of the recording studio for much of the past five years.
Estefan spent two years writing and co-producing "Unwrapped." But the most important diversion has been her 8-year-old daughter, Emily.
"I've been being a mommy," Estefan said. "The main reason I took time off was to give my daughter a solid start in her school years.
"She's in third grade now. She has a solid friendship base. She has a great relationship with everyone in the school," she said. "Her school work is very strong. Now I feel comfortable doing other things."
Which includes fielding questions about Castro.
"I wish I could avoid it," Estefan said. "I've gotten asked that by everyone in the world. You'd think I was the press secretary for him."
She says she is not liked by Fidel and his supporters.
"I'm persona non-grata in that country," Estefan said.
She said Castro's hold on Cuba is so strong that the only solution to resolving the conflict between that country and the United States would be to assassinate him.
"I think it is very arrogant to imagine that anything can be done that would impact him," Estefan said. "He didn't care about the Soviet Union. He doesn't care about the United States. Whatever the United States does will not make one bit of difference."
She noted that Castro turned on Italy after it created a phone system in Cuba, and against Spain after Spanish investors built hotels all over the country.
Opening a relationship with Castro that would allow investment in Cuba would be a mistake, Estefan said.
"It would just put more money in his pocket, give him more legs," she said. "The people will never see the things that are given to that country.
"What's going to happen is that if American businesses were allowed to open, they would be controlled by the government and the Cuban people would not receive one cent."
Cubans receive a lot of financial support from relatives who have settled in the United States.
"The only thing we can do is for Cubans to stop sending the billion a year (in federal aid) that we do," Estefan said.
But she admitted that was a problem, because if her family was still trapped in Cuba she probably would send them money.
"It's a Catch-22," she said. "The people are being held hostage. The only thing we are going to do by opening up trade is give the government more money with which to repress the people."
Between her politics, film projects, her latest album and her family, Estefan is always on the go.
When she finishes her Las Vegas concert she will head for Europe to promote "Unwrapped."
Then, she said, she may begin preparing for a tour next summer.
Would she be happy with a deal like Celine's?
"I would never even consider what Celine is doing," Estefan said. "Performing 200 days a year, that's too much work."