SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL
April 15, 2018
For disco era aficionados, Donna Summer conjures up nights in discos and days recuperating. The newest Broadway jukebox musical, Summer includes a few brawny voices depicting three vocal periods of Summer’s career. Songs that had the audience singing along and wiggling in their seats included “Hot Stuff,” “Last Dance,” “Bad Girls,” “She Works Hard For The Money” (a feminist anthem).
Following the path of so many other R&B vocalists, Summer excelled in the church choir. A Boston girl, Summer was baptized LaDonna Adrian Gaines and before high school ended in 1968 she was off to NYC.
Sone after she arrived in NYC, Summer snared the role of Sheila in the rock musical “Hair” and while touring in Germany married an overbearing man with whom she had a child. Conveniently, Summer also encounters two men who were instrumental to her success, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte. These men became very close to Summer guiding her career and producing more than half of her albums.
The biographical musical is written by Colman Domingo and Robert Cary along with the show’s director Des McAnuff. It traces her catapulting recording and performance career, plus her daring decision to record a song “Love to Love You Baby” that ran over 17 minutes—a length never-before aired on the rock radio stations. Yet, it became a mega hit in 1975 magnetizing the gay community around her.
As the story unfolds, three different women assume the role of Ms. Summer. Ariana DeBose, the maturing Summer, sings “Bad Girls” and dances up a storm. Serjio Trujillo choreographs spot on dances that exude the steamy disco riffs. Poured into sleek unitards and shiny outfits by Paul Tazewell, the dancers’ rippling spines and hip shimmies linked the hard working corps into one extravagant “Shuffle.”
A veteran of rock and R&B musicals set in the 50’s, 60s, and 70’s, Trujillo’s dance vocabulary draws together partner dance as a form of vertical sexual teasing. On par with her sisters, Storm Lever vividly depicts the young sweet-voiced Donna.
Despite the biographical details that get short shrift—like her fallout with the gay community—energy is invested in revealing Summer’s innate intelligence and sophisticated knowledge of the visual arts; a hobby she picked up while living in Europe.
Smartly, the producers made certain a disco ball bombarded the audience with shards of white light while body-rousing music played by the house band under the vigorous direction of Victoria Theodore. For some—that was quite enough.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Celia Ipiotis