Last night this musical theater lover was jumping in her seat.
The show that brought to my feet was SUMMER: The Donna Summer Musical on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
Donna Summer herself once said that she was the soundtrack to many people’s youths, and indeed, while watching this show, I remembered how crucial she was to not only me in my earlier years, but to the rest of the world. After the first song, where one of the three actresses who play the role of musical icon Donna Summer (LaChanze, Ariana DeBose, and Storm Lever) are backed by an all-female line-up of singers and dancers, I was riveted by the music, the story, the performances, and memories of disco. After all, I’m a 70’s girl.
LaDonna Adrian Gaines was an ordinary girl with a kind set of supportive parents from Boston with an extraordinary voice. It seemed like a matter of minutes before she went from being in a choir, where she was, unfortunately, the victim of sexual assault by her reverend and witnessing a senseless murder in the streets of her local town by a friend, to becoming what we know as a disco queen. Her journey is inspiring – not only was she a phenomenon, but she led the way for women to ask to make the kind of money they deserve. And her voice was a dream. Thankfully, the three actresses get that exactly right, each holding her own as they go song by song, through her spectacular recordings which include “Love to Love You Baby,” “Bad Girls” and “Hot Stuff,” “MacArthur Park,” “I Feel Love,” and “Love to Love You Baby.” Feel like dancing yet?
The older Donna takes us through her life, both narrating her story and interacting with the younger versions of her self. She takes us into many of her life-changing events –
Summer’s Wikipedia-page life events are addressed – her Munich recording sessions with the Giorgio Moroder, her relationship with Casablanca Records’ Neil Bogart, pill addiction, abusive men and men she loved, and an early pregnancy in which she gave the child away. We watch as she strives to break out of her disco bubble, with a desire to be more than she was, and we watch as she folds her career to have children, paint, and eventually die of lung cancer at age 63.
While the reviews I’ve read have been ambivalent and not as interested in this show, I say go see it. Everyone around me was clapping, singing, and you could feel the energy from everyone who wanted to jump up in the room to start dancing. Don’t listen to the critics, see this show.
SUMMER is now in previews at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 West 46th Street, on Broadway and will open on April 23 (previews began March 28).