If you have ever been to a wedding, you have heard “Last Dance” but I didn’t realize just how many Donna Summer Songs I knew until this past Tuesday night when Summer: The Donna Summer Musical opened at DPAC in Durham. I also didn’t know that Donna Summer also wrote most of her hits or that she faced so much sexism and adversity in the music business as her fame grew while she simultaneously tried not to be pigeonholed as just the “Queen of Disco”.
With over two dozen iconic Donna Summer songs in this hour and forty-five-minute production with no intermission, in many ways this show is more of a concert, but between the musical numbers they do a good job of capturing the highlights of Summer’s life story in the form of a career retrospective starting from her early years growing up sing in her church choir to the time she dropped out of high school to perform in a touring production of Hair in Germany to the apex of her musical career as queen of 70’s.
The show starts off with and is narrated by Dan’yelle Williamson who portrays “Diva Donna” representing her later years. The story bounces through time throughout with glimpses of milestones and hits throughout her career with Alex Grayson playing her mid-career years as “Disco Donna” and Olivia Elease Hardy playing the young “Duckling Donna”. All three of these actors do an amazing job channeling the spirit of Summers and their powerful soaring voice are truly the highlight of the show.
There are a limited number of speaking roles among the rest of the company with the majority of the cast serving to provide spirited dance numbers as the backdrop for each number. Actually casting is really streamlined in this show with a predominantly female both Williamson and Hardy playing dual roles as Summers and other family members in her life.
The costumes are everything you would hope they would be in a show rooted in the 70’s Disco scene. I do have one minor quibble with the set and how it was so minimal. The opening scene with a lone stereo turntable a symbolic start, but the majority of show is set to an empty black backdrop occasionally populated with some moving video panels that don’t add a whole lot to the scene. I think it is a missed opportunity to capture some of the magic and unique 70’s vibe. Still It is the music that makes this show so great and it is jam packed with it from start to finish.
For some this show may be a fun stroll down memory lane to the exciting and uncertain times of the 70’s while for others it offers a glimpse into a storied past they’ve only heard about but never experienced. Either way Summer is a widely entertaining show about a music legend that empowered women in the industry for years to come and that is a story everyone should see.
The touring production of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical performs at DPAC through Sunday, March 2nd. For tickets and more information visit https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/summer-the-donna-summer-musical