The Donna Summer Tribute Site

Summer: The Donna Summer Musical 

March 30, 2018 (a preview show)
Lunt-Fontanne Theater, New York

 

I finally got to go see Summer: The Donna Summer musical which started previews on Broadway  March 28 and which officially opens April 23.  Now keep in mind, what I saw was a preview show, so there may be some changes before the official opening. And I would like to invite everyone who goes to the show to please let me know what (if any) changes you see so we can keep track of them for posterity.  :-)  I would also like to explain exactly how I am going to write this report. I know there are quite a few of you out there who have tickets to the show (or who will be getting them) and would like to be surprised when they get to the theater. I also know there are many people out there who can't just drop everything to come to NY and who would like every detail they can get.  I think I can accommodate both groups of fans.  :-)  This page will be a basically spoiler-free run down of my night at the show.  At the end of it, I will give you a link to another page that will have spoilers galore. It will be up to you if or when you want to click that link. Fair enough?  :-)

Ok ! Here we go!  First of all, I admit to being a little nervous about hearing someone else singing Donna's songs, but it was OK.  Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning which was walking from Penn Station to the theater. I was with a couple of friends and we walked up up 7th Ave. When we made the turn on to 46th (where the theater lives)  we were greeted by that nice big marquee with Donna's name and face that I know many of you have already seen online.  Seeing it in person is so much more impressive that seeing it in photos.  It made everything so real! I will say that they do have a little more work to do on the outside of the building though, The vast majority of it was redecorated for Summer, but if you looked up higher you can still see some remnants from the last show, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. I'll have to look again when I go back and see if they fix that. Aside from the marquee, they have painted some of the solid doors (delivery entrances, etc) with pictures of Donna and they make great places for fans to stand and take pictures  of themselves or their friends... not that I know anyone who would do such a thing.... (You can't see it but I have just put on my most innocent expression.  LOL) They also play Donna's music outside so you can boogie a little while you wait to be let into the theater. While waiting to get in, we were delighted to see that some of the taxi's driving by had ads for Summer on their roofs.  I imagine as things get rolling, we will see ads on buses and at the train stations.

I do want to take a second here to offer a warning for people with mobility issues.  Once you get inside the theater, you have to go upstairs to wait in the lounge until the main theater opens. And then you will take more stairs (up for the mezzanine or down for the orchestra) to get to your seat. There are no escalators and I didn't notice elevators, so if stairs are a problem for you, CALL the theater first and see how you can be accommodated.

Moving on... like I said, once inside they send you to the lounge where you can buy merchandise or hit the bar.  As I write this, I haven't posted any pictures  on the site yet. By the time you read this, I may have the pictures posted. (My plan is to get this all written first, post it, then come back and add pics as I can. I have pics for merchandise, the Playbill pages, etc - and if you are on Facebook you probably saw them there already.) But let me give you a quick rundown of what was available - several different shirts for $30-$35, a jacket for $100,  a magnet , a keychain and a shot glass for $10 each, a compact for $15 and a hat for $20.  Before you ask... some or all of this stuff may become available on Playbill.com at some point. I ignored the bar at first because I am not a drinker. But then I heard an order for a "MacArthur Park-a-rita".  Well of course as soon as I heard that, I had to get a peek at the drink menu. Also available were a "She Works Hard For Her Vodka", a "Love To Love You Bombay", a "Disco Daiquiri", a "Summer Sangria", and a "Disco Inferno."  Don't ask me any of the ingredients - I can't read them in the snapshot I took.  LOL

This is very important to know. The musical runs for about an hour and 45 minutes and there is NO INTERMISSION.  So this is the time to use the restrooms and buy your drinks. (Drinks can be brought to your seat with you.) Once you are seated, you won't want to miss a minute. (Plus who wants to climb all those stairs again.  LOL)

OK, on to the show.  As you know by now, Summer is a musical version of Donna's life story.  (Oops... was that a spoiler?  LOL)  The idea is that it's Donna's last concert and it is an occasion for her to look back on her life. Now I have to make it clear - it's not that Donna knows it is definitely her last show. Of course we, the audience know that.  What she says is that people say that you should perform every show as if it is your last because one day, it will be.  So if this could be the last show, then it should be the show of a lifetime and that's how we ease into the biographical nature of what we are about to see.

Over the course of the evening, Donna is played by three actresses - LaChanze as the mature "Diva Donna", Ariana DeBose as "Disco Donna" which covers Donna's late teens up to about the time Donna's kids start going off to college (more or less), and then Storm Lever as  "Duckling Donna" which is Donna as a young girl. The rest of the cast is a mostly female ensemble. There are a few men, but quite a few male roles are played by women.  This is explained by Diva Donna when she says that when she was growing up, women's roles were changing drastically, so they might as well take it to the next level here.

I should say something about the set too.  It's a very simple setup. Its a big white open space with lots of lights overhead.  They use LED screens for the backdrop - sometimes one huge one with one particular image on it.  The church scenes spring to mind where the screen looks like the stained glass window of a church. Other times they use 3 or 4 smaller screens that often show iconic pictures of Donna. There are 3 platforms near the front of the stage. They are used to elevate one or more of the Donnas in some numbers and they are also used for some entrances or exits. A Donna may leave by being lowered below the stage, or she may enter by being raised up from below stage. And then of course they add set pieces where needed - some living room furniture when Donna is at home, some desks when she's in an office, a mixboard and mic when she's in the studio - you get the idea. Oh and one interesting things I liked with the costuming is that usually all 3 Donna's were dressed similarly when they were together. (And yes they are together onstage fairly often.)  All 3 would be in blue but Diva Donna's outfit might be a more mature pantsuit, while Disco Donna was in a glittering gown and Duckling Donna would be in a dress suitable for a young girl.

Now this not your typical bio where you start with something like "I was born in the log cabin I built with my own hands.... blah blah blah." What this is, is Diva Donna looking back at her life as a series of "fragments" to use her words. You see, she never sees the whole picture she just sees the fragments.  Diva Donna handles most of the exposition. She might say something like "who would have known what one song could do" and then you'd see Disco Donna re-enacting the recording of Love To Love You. (I don't consider that a spoiler because I think everybody knows that Love To Love You would have to be in the show since it was Donna's first big hit.)

Now because we are looking at fragments of Donna's life, things are not necessarily in chronological order. You might start seeing one thing and then you might be told that that thing could only have happened because of something else that happened before. It sounds confusing the way I'm writing this because I'm trying to keep things on the vague side here. It will make more sense on the page where I share spoilers - I promise!

Also, all the fragments we are shown are accompanied by one of Donna's songs. Sometimes the song choice is obvious - like singing Love To Love You in the scene where they are recording that song. Sometimes the song choice is not so obvious AND many times the song used was not actually written at the time the particular event happened.  For instance, Duckling Donna gets to sing some songs that wouldn't even be written until Donna was a grown woman.  It's about the song supporting the story told as opposed to being a chronological discography.  This leads to some very creative song choices and there is one song in particular that I will never hear the same way again.  It's meaning has been forever changed for me. But.... I am heading to the land of spoilers here, so I better back off.

So the show starts with the center platform rising and it has a turntable on it with a Casablanca LP spinning on it. (Who among us couldn't recognize THAT label from a hundred miles away?  LOL)  The needle drops and you hear the music for The Queen Is Back. (Yes, I know that song wasn't on Casablanca but I totally understand why they would use a Casablanca LP anyway.)  The ensemble cones out singing, dancing and then they are joined by Diva Donna.  I should stop and explain that I went into  this show a little nervous about hearing someone else sing Donna's songs. And with the first bar or two my brain said, "THAT'S NOT DONNA'S VOICE!" But then I told that part of my brain to shut up and give it a chance.  LOL And you know what - it was OK. It was better than OK actually. Much better.  All 3 Donna's are talented singers and each captured the essence of their particular Donna. Seriously, by the end of the show, I could have gone up to LaChanze (if I had the chance) and said "I know you're not the real Donna, but can I hug you anyway?"

So where were we? Yes, Diva Donna comes out singing The Queen Is Back and at this point it's  just a concert. (This is why I'm not considering this a spoiler - no plot has happened yet.)  The songs ends and Diva Donna addresses the audience just the same way the real Donna would talk to an audience at a concert.  And actually, in moments like this, the audience becomes a character in the show as well because let's face it - we were all screaming and yelling like it was a real concert.  :-)  (On a side note - I heard from a guy who is friends with someone in the production. His friend said the cast was blown away by the audience response.  I'm thinking they were unaware of the boisterous reputation Donna fans have!  LOL)  This is where Diva Donna tells us that a performer should play each show like it's their last.  There is also a wig joke thrown in there - for all you wig fans.  Oh and yes, she did invite us to sing and dance if we want to. She didn't use the real Donna's exact words, but it was close enough!

Then we move on to I Feel Love. It's still a concert at this point, but we are gradually moving into it being something more because Diva Donna uses the song to explain the magical world of dance music. She said that people didn't think the synthesizer was real music because it was too cold and robotic. "Well screw them", she said. "This is the future! And our instrument wasn't just the synthesizer, it was the whole recording studio." When the song ends, that's when Diva Donna talks about growing up when women's roles were changing and then that's when we got to meet the other two Donnas.

From here, I won't mention any more songs (well except Last Dance, because that's not going to be a spoiler either.  You have to have already figured out it would close the show, right?  LOL) I will say that there is a nice selection of hits and deep cuts. And as far as Donna's life story goes - the theme is that everything has a price.  There is a quote in there that says, "To whom much is given, much is required." Thus the story tends to focus more on Donna's personal life and  the effects of her professional life on her as a person. Professional accomplishments are mentioned, sometimes in passing, sometimes more substantially if the accomplishment illustrates some point that's trying to be made. (This is hard to explain without using examples!  LOL) 

Donna's life is covered from her days as a little girl singing in the family living room, all the way up to her final illness.  There are moments where you will want to dance and sing, moments where you will laugh, moments that might surprise you, and of course there are moments where you will cry - especially if you are a diehard fan who still misses the real Donna.  But they do end on a high note. After all the mountains and valleys of Donna's life, they take you out with a rousing rendition of Last Dance what will get you on your feet and cheering!

I was absolutely thrilled with the show and am already making plans to go back again.  And I am really really hoping that they can get a cast album out soon. I would enjoy that, and I think that those of you who can's get to Broadway will be interested in hearing how the songs are used.

OK. I am going to upload this now and then start working on the spoiler-filled show report.

On to Part 2 - but ONLY if you can deal with spoilers!

 


Click any image for a larger version
These photos were taken in front of the theater.  As you can see, the W and some of the painting from the last production staged there is still visible.
Here we have the merchandise available for sale
This is the price list for the merchandise. And this is the special drinks menu they have at the bar.


These are the pages of Playbill specifically related to Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.  Clicking each will bring you to a larger version you can read. One page has the song list. I have marker that with the word "spoilers".  If you don't want to know the songs and the order they appear, then don't click that page!

 

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