Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is discoing at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre through January 05, 2020. Get tickets and more info here.
The name Donna Summer summons up visions of sparkling outfits, high heeled shoes, synthetic music and disco lights radiating from mirror balls. Above all that, it brings forth music. Incredible, vibrant music that commanded one to leap to the dance floor and shake your body until the wee hours of morning. The name Summer is also the title of a new musical at the Paramount Theatre, and as the title suggests, it celebrates all things that are Donna Summer.
The show is a musical biography that flitters through time telling the story of The Queen of Disco. Starting with the hit “The Queen is Back” the “Diva Donna” (the eldest of the three women playing Donna Summer) relates how her story is more of equal rights for women and learning how to empower oneself. She remembers her childhood in Boston, being one of seven children (“Duckling Donna”), and singing in the church to please her rigid father. “Diva Donna” drops out of high school and begins to audition for jobs singing in clubs. Eventually, she gets a role in the German cast of “Hair” and at the height of her teen years, discovers living on her own in a foreign country, where being black is not only a beautiful thing but also one of desire by the European boys. She begins the infamous ‘moaning’ on the song “I Feel Love” and due to its risqué nature, quickly becomes an international hit. Upon her return from Europe, Donna becomes the Queen of Disco. She begins to struggle in her life with wanting to do more, the jealousy of different controlling men in her life, with doing pills and wanting to have a family. But Donna does that with hit after hit until she finally takes complete control of her life, divorces herself from the devious producers of her previous record label, and searches her life for what happiness truly means for her.
The cast of Summer is formed 75% of women and 25% of men, which is probably no coincidence. They all do an excellent job. The three women playing Donna Summer (“Duckling”, “Disco” and “Diva”) are all incredible. Storm Lever (recreating her role of “Duckling Donna” from her original Broadway debut) has a voice that will not quit! Her voice is strong especially when lending itself to the more gospel numbers of the younger Donna’s life. Alex Hairston (“Disco Donna”) is another to keep to an eye on for future performances. Ms. Hairston easily transforms from innocent teen to “Bad Girl”, and we are luckily enough to be brought along. She brings the right amount of playful behavior needed to sing such songs as “Love to Love you Baby”, or a duet with her older self in “Enough Is Enough”. Dan’yelle Williamson (“Diva Donna”) is the unofficial narrator of the show as she leads the audience back into what makes a young church singer the Queen of Disco. Her voice is powerful and delivers every note with strong precision. Whether its the pop sounds of “No More Tears” or the soul-thumping gospel of “I Believe in Jesus”, Ms. Williamson earns the title of “Diva Donna”. She knows how to utilize the powerful instrument she has been given, and we are all better off for her sharing it with us.
Summer is definitely an energetic show with good music and delivers a fun time. While the story doesn’t shy away from some of the controversial subject matter in Ms. Summer’s life (ie: molestation while in the church, struggling with inequality of men and women in pay and professional treatment, etc…), it doesn’t dwell on them, showing us enough to make it’s point and allow the implications to set in without drawing a picture for the audience. The show deals with, albeit maybe a bit too briefly, the controversial comment Ms. Summer made at a concert where she said: “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”. The explanation given is brief, but acceptable and all these years later, hopefully the GLBT community can be forgiving of the alleged faux pas. Either way, the story is interesting; it’s told in an entertaining way, and no matter how you look at it, the music is classic and infectious. The show is 90 minutes with no intermission, and the time will fly by. The music is classic (with many songs that were written by Donna Summer) of another era, and it will have you dancing on the way out of the theatre.
Summer opened on Broadway in April 2018 and ran for over 300 performances. With a book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary and Des McAnuff, it includes music written by Donna Summer, Paul Jabara and many others, as it is a jukebox musical of sort. It was nominated for two Tony Awards for LaChanze (“Diva Donna”) and for Ariana DeBose (“Disco Donna”).