Summer: Donna’s Summer Musical
I attribute my love for many styles of music to my parents. I never really thought about it until I was older, but my parents both love music and they love different genres. Maybe I’m an old soul or maybe it’s because I’m also gay but I love disco. There’s something about the 70s era of music, especially disco, that just makes me stomp my foot, skip my shoulder, and then I dance with my hands in the air. This included Donna Summer, which is why I counted the days until I could go back to the theater and watch Summer: Donna’s Summer Musical.
Known as the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer was an American singer, songwriter, and actress who really made a lasting impact on dance, disco, and pop music in general. She has recorded countless hits including “Love to Love You Baby”, “I Feel Love”, “Last Dance”, “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls”, to name a few. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013 and has now been immortalized in the musical theater industry with this musical.
The musical is a typical biographical jukebox production, but the formula is put together a little differently. While it covers the main moments of her life, including the rise to disco royalty, relationships, family, and even a few bumps along the way, the book doesn’t focus on just one actress. The role of Donna is not given to one person. She is divided into three different roles: Duckling Donna, Disco Donna and Diva Donna.
While each role covers a different aspect of her life, they also all have moments together, whether it’s giving advice or even singing a song. I found it very interesting to use this approach to tell your life story and it works. By separating him between three actresses, he allowed every moment of his life to really stand out. This helped shatter a decades-long career to make it more digestible for audiences and to keep the book from getting too bogged down in detail.
The whole thing is exactly what it should be: simple. It fulfills its function by transporting us to a variety of places with unique lighting and a simple screen above the actors behind the scenes. It wasn’t too awkward and often showed real photos of the real Donna Summer. The lighting featured a variety of cool colors for the majority of the disco songs, including purples, blues and pinks. However, some songs called for something warmer, most notably “She Works Hard for the Money” and “Hot Stuff” which of course featured more reds, oranges and yellows.
I was hesitant when the show started due to the mixing and editing of the sound. Whenever a lot of ensemble numbers were in, what the show starts off with was just too pushy and in your face. I can’t tell if it was the volume of the show or the actual sound mix, but it was just hard to figure out the whole thing.
Each Donna brought incredible courage and voices to the role, including Amahri Edwards-Jones who plays Duckling Donna. She also has some heartwarming songs to sing that really show off the struggles Donna had when she was younger. Whoever plays Disco Donna, who in this case is Charis Gullage, has to be ready to really wear a big part of the show. Gullage nails it. Her voice is powerful and sultry with numbers like “Love to Love You Baby” and “MacArthur Park”. I was in absolute awe every time she sang.
Diva Donna, who is played by Brittny Smith, partly serves as the narrator but also plays Donna in some of the most difficult times of her life. She is the wisest and most mature of the three Donnas. Now, that doesn’t stop Smith from almost popping my glasses with his powerful voice. She was absolutely divine and also had fantastic comedic timing.
Something I liked about the three Donnas is their ability to make them an incredible hit and a well-known song. It never felt like they were trying to replicate, duplicate, or copy Summer’s performances. They took the original source material and added it to make it their own and it’s something as a former performer that I really enjoyed. It’s a trap that a lot of biographical musicals can fall into. It is in line with the cover band’s tribute concert, but these three performers kept the show in its hallway, which is a real musical.
Honestly, I cannot recommend this show highly enough. It’s just a fun hour and 40 minute production that really put a smile on my face all night long. Even as I’m typing this review I hear the summer voice singing toot toot, yeah, beep beep. It will make you appreciate the hard work Summer has put into her career and will have you tapping your foot all night long. His music is contagious and will forever be among the best.
Summer: Donna’s Summer Musical is there for a very small window of time. The show runs now through January 2 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul. Tickets can be purchased here.