'SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL'
At The Princess of Wales
Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade
With a bemused expression on my face as my guest told me, I spotted some audience members wearing platform shoes, bell bottom pants, sparkly slacks, tops and tees, and the ‘big hair’ from the disco era which brought back some fond and embarrassing moments from my high school years at the opening night of ‘Summer: The Donna Summer Musical’.
Just like I did with ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Story’ which also played at Mirvish, I did make strong connections to some of the characters and events from ‘Summer’. The plot deals with the Disco Queen (rumoured that Ms. Summer never liked this title) at three stages of her life. There’s Duckling Donna (played with such ease by Olivia Elease Hardy, and I’m looking forward to seeing her in future shows). Disco Donna (a sexy and seductive Alex Hairston) and Diva Donna (a glamourous Dan’yelle Williamson). What’s clever about this production is the use of Ms. Hardy as Mimi, one of Donna’s future children. Ms. Williamson also plays Donna’s mother, Mary Gaines.
At times, the production reminded me of a glitzy Las Vegas show revue. Sergio Trujillo’s choreography sharply reflects the hip swiveling, finger pointing, dance moves of the seventies. When the three Donnas sing together, hot damn do they ever sound good especially in their rendition of ‘MacArthur Park’. Those ladies look terrific on stage backed by a company of a marvelously fit dancers who sometimes appear androgynous. There’s nothing wrong with this revue looking format since I love spending time in Vegas as I’m sure many of us do if we can go.
Nevertheless, that glitter and glitz flee quickly away leaving me feeling distant from the emotional element surrounding Ms. Summer’s checkered past in a failed relationship with one of her many lovers. The reason I felt distant (and sorry about the spoiler alert here). Ms. Summer clocks said lover on the face with a coffee table book that has a picture of Barbra Streisand on it. Whether or not Ms. Streisand’s picture is intentional as a joke or comment, here is a point about two strong women in the music industry who have probably had their share of high ranking official men try to take advantage of them in one way or another. I had read many years ago there was tension between Streisand and Summer when they recorded ‘Enough is Enough’ and was hoping there was reference. Nope. There was also a vulgar insinuation of Ms. Summer getting down on her knees, not only for praying, which really bothered me especially since she is no longer with us.
This one hour and forty-minute female empowered jukebox musical sans intermission isn’t a terrible show as there are some strong performances throughout. Much like ‘Beautiful’’s mini concert near the end, Ms. Summer’s iconic ‘Hot Stuff’ and ‘Last Dance’ brought the house down. Ms. Williamson’s rendition of ‘Friends Unknown’ brought a nearly minute and a half long audience applause which brought her to tears. Steven Grant Douglas’s performance as Summer’s second husband, Bruce Sudano, is good but I wished there was more character development for him to show that not all men are like the ones Ms. Summer had to deal with in her career.
I couldn’t make out the object appearing down centre stage at the top of the show. When the performance began, and it was a stereo turntable with a Casablanca record label recording, I thought that was quite inventive to tweak my interest. The videos on the panels at the back worked fine for me in order to help establish the various locales. I quite liked the images of the paintings Ms. Summer had completed when she stepped back from her career to be with her family and her own personal health diagnosis.
SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL
Runs to March 22 at The Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West, Toronto. For tickets, call 1-416-872-1212 or visit www.mirvish.com.
Songs by Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Jabara and others.
Book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary and Des McAnuff
Music Supervision and Arrangements by Ron Melrose.
Choreography by Sergio Trujillo
Directed by Des McAnuff