The Donna Summer Tribute Site

Summer: The Donna Summer Musical 

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

 

This is part 2 of my Summer: The Donna Summer Musical report. This version will contain SPOILERS!  If you are planning to see the show and don't want to know what happens,  LEAVE THIS PAGE NOW!  THERE WILL BE NO FURTHER WARNINGS!  If you missed part 1 (which is spoiler free and safe for all to read, you will find that here.)


So on to the rest of my review. The butler did it.....   LOL

I'm going to try not to recap what I said in part 1. If you didn't read that, go read that first. For this part I am just going to recount the show basically song by song so you can see how they are used and I will throw in whatever else needs to be told. It might even make sense!  LOL

Ok, so in part 1 I told you about The Queen Is Back and I Feel Love. There is no need to rehash that.  So next up is Love To Love You Baby and that is the first fragment of Donna's life that we get to see.  Oh wait, to make it easier I am going to abbreviate the various Donnas. Instead of Diva Donna, Disco Donna and Duckling Donna, I am just going to say Diva, Disco and Duckling. It will save a little wear and tear on the D, O, N and A keys on my keyboard.  LOL

So Love To Love You is the first fragment we see. Diva explains that it is the moment when the private Donna Gaines became the public Donna Summer.  We watch Disco in the studio with Giorgio and Pete trying to figure out how to record this song convincingly.  A chance remark by Pete? (Maybe Giorgio? I can't remember) gives Disco the idea to approach the song as an actress. She gets the guys to turn around (because she's embarrassed to do the song and because they really can't turn off the lights on the stage because of the audience...)  She lies on the floor and does the song.  There is some sort of choreography she does on the floor (this actress does more dancing than the other 2) but I couldn't see it from my seat.  I lucked into front row seats (which I thought were second row when I got them because there apparently is now row A in the center orchestra section.)  And from the front row the stage is a little over your eye level so there are some things that you don't see as well from there. Next time I think I want to sit in the mezzanine to see what I missed. Anyway, the song is recorded and as it is still being played on the stage you see Neil requesting that Giorgio record a longer version,  you see Neil and Joyce making Disco over into a glamorous image, and proclaiming that she will be the First Lady Of Love - a role and title that Disco is reluctant to accept. She wants to be more than that.

The song ends and Diva (who as I said before is responsible for most of the exposition), comes out and says something along the lines of "Who knew that one little song could start it all?"  Disco responds (because the 3 Donna's do interact with each other from time to time) that it wasn't the one song. It started way before that. Disco reminisces about her strict parents while LaChanze transforms from Diva into Donna's mother, Mary.  This may sound confusing, but it is handled well.  She ties her hair back and dons a sweater and then suddenly she is Mary instead of Diva.  This happens several times in the show and it is NEVER confusing.  Ok, so Disco is reminiscing and Duckling takes the stage. She's got her sisters Mary Ellen and Dara and they are putting on a show in the living room for the whole family. (Now you see what I mean about the fragments of Donna's life not being told strictly chronologically. But it works and you can follow it with no problem.)

The girls sing I Remember Yesterday - thus illustrating what I said about the music not being used chronologically either.  It starts as a show for the family but morphs into Duckling experimenting with lipstick, trying on various hats, she even puffs on a cigarette a friend hands her - but doesn't like it.  Duckling explains that it's not enough to just sing. Every song is a chance to be another character.  At the end of the song she gets scolded by her strict father for wearing lipstick and for smelling like cigarettes.  At this point in Duckling's life, she lacks confidence. She feels ugly (hence the lipstick) and when her dad reminds her that the pastor asked her to sing solo in the church, she replies that she has a voice like a police siren - that Mary should have the solo because she has a pretty voice.  Nothing doing - the pastor asked for Donna so that's who is singing. Mother Mary reminds Duckling  that she has a gift and tells her about the story of the Ugly Duckling and how it grew into a beautiful black swan.

Cut to the church where Duckling is singing her solo.  The song she sings is On My Honor! I LOVE that song and have since the first time I heard it all those years ago.  It is of course a love song, but it works well here as a spiritual number - sort of a love song to God. This is where Duckling realizes that she truly does have a gift since she was able to move even her father to tears with her song.

Disco and Diva now reminisce about what happened after that - singing everywhere she could, playing hooky from school, even sneaking off to New York to do auditions. Cue the next song - Faster And Faster.  This is Disco (in her younger pre-glamorous days) singing as she witnesses a murder while cutting class one day.  The song illustrates the frenzy of dealing with the murder, identifying the culprit to the police, and dealing with the fear of retribution from the culprit's friends.  It's this fear of retribution that leads Disco to confessing that she's been to New York and received a job offer there. Her father is stunned to find out that the job is for a production of Hair that will be going to Germany. (Cue the bad dad pun about not eating the sausage there because it is the wurst.)

So Disco is now in Germany where life is opening up for her. She's experiencing new things, being exposed to art, meeting new people, etc. She expressed this new sense of freedom by singing White Boys.  Diva comes out and explains how quickly she adapted to German life and starts singing White Boys in German.  As she sings, Disco meets a bunch of different men in Germany including Gunther (who will be important later) and Helmut Sommer.

So now we her back to the over arcing theme of cost - in this case the price of free love was a cute little baby named Mimi. Disco cooing over baby Mimi (played here by a doll if I am not mistaken  LOL) is accompanied by a short reprise of Love To Love You.

The next scene has Neil Bogart convincing Disco to leave Mimi with her parents and become a star.  Disco is not happy about leaving her daughter and wonders why there is always a price. Her father explains that to whom much is given, much will be required.

Cut to Disco and Giorgio with Giorgio telling Disco that her voice and the synthesizer are a perfect match.  Disco laments that people aren't really hearing her sing - all they are hearing is moaning and breathing. No one actually knows she can sing. So Giorgio tells her to show them. 

Goosebumps time!  Yeah, Disco shows she can sing with none other than MacArthur Park!  She is joined by Diva and then Duckling because the former Ugly Duckling has become the beautiful black swan.  It's amazing and it is a point in the show where some fans started to tear up.  (Did I mention you need to bring tissues with you to this show? If not, I am mentioning it now.)  There are rehearsal clips online of the 3 Donna's singing part of this song. I might add a link to this report later if I remember.) The crowd went absolutely nuts at the end of the song!

So now, Disco is a big star.  There are little vignettes where she's joking with the press, where her handlers are fretting about (or in some cases neglecting to fret about)  when she can sleep. There is even a Tonight Show appearance where Disco says she misses her friends in Germany. It's all done to illustrate what a hectic and taxing life she has at this point in her career.

Diva takes the stage and says she remembers that time. That on a good day she felt like Judy Garland in The Wizard Of Oz, and on a bad day, well she felt like Judy Garland.  She couldn't sleep and she was depressed - the price of fame. But she had these little blue pills called Marplan to get her through.  (Note from this pharmacy technician - Marplan was an old school anti-depressant. It was nasty stuff and they don't use it much any more. I've been in pharmacy something like 20 years now and I have never seen it prescribed.)

Cut to Disco in the studio at what was supposed to be the end of the session for the day. She doesn't want to stop because she knows if she goes home, it will be to just stare at the walls and not sleep.  She convinces the guys to do one more song - so they rehearse a duet - Heaven Knows. Her duet partner, Bean, isn't there so a guitar player steps in.  (Do I even need to say that the guitar player is Bruce?  LOL And for any casual fans reading this - No it is NOT Bruce on the actual record. Joe "Bean" Esposito is the one on the record.)  They sing the song together and it becomes clear that they are interested in each other, although Bruce does have a girlfriend who shows up after the song.

Diva explains that she wasn't exactly unattached at that time either. Gunther had followed her from Germany. To the strains of Enough Is Enough we see a jealous and angry Gunther show up at Disco's door.  He gets abusive, she fights back,  the cops come and then Disco and Diva duet on Enough Is Enough.  (On a side note, I spotted a copy of Barbra Streisand's book Memories - with the big picture of her face on the cover - in Disco's living room. I think she tried to whack Gunther with it if I recall while they were fighting.)

We end Enough Is Enough with Diva's observation the Gunther got deported after this. Then she says that it was about more than him. It was about all the things that lead up to that moment and that when you pick up fragments, they are sometimes more like shards.

That brings us to Duckling  in church singing Pandora's Box of all things. It's done as a ballad and we find out from Diva that the pastor molested her from the age of 11 on to about the age of 16.  (THAT story was not in Donna's book and I'm thinking if I read Donna's book again that bit of knowledge will pull some more things into focus - but I digress.) Diva picks up the song and sings with Duckling and a choir of ensemble players.

The scene changes to a more lighthearted one with Disco learning how to drive - and apparently she wasn't too good at it then. There are lots of jokes about that here.  Diva comes out to talk about the joy of being alone in the car and just singing along to the radio. It's a place where looks don't matter - nothing matters. It's just you and the music. Cue On The Radio.  During this song, Disco (still in her car) is chased by another car. It's pretty scary for her until she finds out that the guy driving the other car is none other than Bruce.  Now that both are unencumbered by other people, they are able to finally act on their feeling for each other with a duet of I Love You.

Life is now good for Disco. She's got Bruce, Mimi moves back in with her - it's one big happy family again.  Disco says she feels like she's on top of the world. Diva looks on and says "yeah, and now try keeping your balance."

And that's the cue for Bad Girls. After singing a bit of it, Disco and Neil briefly recap some of Casablanca's recent accomplishments and Disco's career highlights - being in a movie, singing the Oscar winning song, etc. Then they have a dispute over Bad Girls. Neil wants to give it to Cher because she could use the edge. Disco wants to keep it for herself. She says that one day disco (the music genre not Disco Donna) will die and she doesn't want to be there when it burns.  A few more bars of music and Giorgio tells Disco that she needs to seek advice from outside Casablanca.  This starts Disco's break with the label (and provides for an inside joke based solely on certain casting choices.  LOL) Disco gets a team together, sues Casablanca and joins Geffen all to the strains of She Works Hard For The Money as sung by Diva.  (Disco is busy with some choreography that shows how she is taking care of business. There are rehearsal clips of that online too.)

Diva tells the Chasen's story  about the ladies' room attendant who was sleeping on the job because she was working 2 jobs and how She Works Hard For The Money was written about her.  She mentions that she had to give the song to Polygram instead of Geffen because of a contract thing so you could sort of say she had 2 jobs as well.  Then she said that Neil got sick and then  none of the lawsuits, etc mattered.

Cut to a distraught Disco at home with Bruce. She has been asked to sing at Neil's funeral and she wonders how could she after all that has happened.  Bruce says, "How could you not? He loved you."  So Disco sings. It's a slow version of Dim All The Lights with the lyrics slightly modified to make it less sexual.

Diva comes out and tells the audience that once you are on a roller coaster, it's hard to get off. And it can get so steep that it will bring you to a place you don't want to go - a place where even the little blues pills don't help.

Now we see Disco in a hotel window poised to jump.  She is stopped by the timely intervention  of a member of the hotel's housekeeping staff.  This is followed Mary Ellen and Dara  coming to Disco's side to convince her to come back to God. And this is where she sings I Believe In Jesus.

Diva explains that here she was with Bruce and Mimi, but she was married to her career. She didn't want to toss aside her career, she just wanted to put it in its proper place.  And once she got her priorities straight it she felt whole again. It was like being at home in her living room singing with her sisters again.

So now we move forward. Diva is now the main Donna. She talks about her family growing with the additions of Brooklyn and Amanda. They sing Unconditional Love as one by one we see the girls grow up and head off to college while Diva stands at her easel and paints. Right before Amanda goes, Diva asks her, "Remember when you were little and you asked me what I was painting? And I told you I was painting the sun and God reaching down to block the rain." Amanda replies, "I told you that God is the sun and the rain. He doesn't block the rain, it just comes."

Diva repeats: "The rain just comes."

Get your tissues out again.  Diva starts singing To Turn The Stone.  (A song I will never listen to the same way again!)  This is where we find out that Diva is ill.  She explains that way before she got sick, she lost her mother. And that her mother was a really private person who never wanted to never wanted to make the family worry. When she got sick, she didn't tell anyone. So when she passed away - everyone was completely unprepared.

Diva came to believe while raising her kids that it was important to be honest with them. It was as important to be honest with them as it was to be honest with God.  Diva continues with the song, and as she sings we see each daughter reacting to the news that Diva is ill. It's heartbreaking.  But at the end of the song, the girls decide that they as a family need to fight this thing together.  This leads to them singing (and dancing to) Stamp Your Feet.  The songs ends with a bit of a laugh as one of the various medical people who have filtered on stage during the song loudly tries to shush the foot stamping family.  They stop for a second, look right at him and then go right back to their singing and dancing - with the doctor joining right in . :-)

That song ends, the stage is darkened and Diva takes her place alone at the piano.  She starts to sing Friends Unknown as the LED screens behind her light up to show pictures of various gay couples.  She pauses to take a moment to remember the men in her life. (And here my recollection gets a bit hazy because by this time I really couldn't hold back my tears. And I am not a public crier, so I fought hard to hold it together. I just couldn't do it.) She uses the opportunity to mildly address the Adam & Steve thing. She explains that it was a joke - a bad joke that was meant to get more ladies to sing along with her at a certain point in her show. She says she would never stand in judgment of anyone else and then she talks about how so many people were lost back then - so many friends.  She then goes on to say that God made Adam and Eve AND Steve and everyone else.

Diva recalls being a kid with her sisters dreaming of all the things they would do and all the people they would meet. She says everyone is born with a gift. She said your gift is for me, and mine is for you - ALL of you. She comes to the end of the song - the audience went absolutely NUTS and I was thankful I had brought my tissues with me.

Diva goes on to sum up her life. She got to be everything and do everything she wanted to. And as she looks back, maybe those weren't fragments she was seeing. Fragments come from something that is breaking apart.  Maybe what she was seeing were facets - like the facets that make up a precious shining jewel. She lists everything that she's gotten to be - a mother, a daughter, a wife, a lover, a teacher, a student, etc.  Duckling  is raised up to the stage. She looks at Diva and says "You are everything I wanted to be."

Diva continues. "I was even a disco queen. I used to think that being called that put me in a box, but there are worse things they can call you. " She reflects on those days and says that they were one big party but that she wasn't just at the party, she WAS they party. Cue Disco singing Hot Stuff with lots of dancing from the ensemble.

When that ends, we hear the opening notes of Last Dance - the slow to fast version that has existed since the beginning of time.  By the time it speeds up to the fast part, all 3 Donnas are singing together.  And of course the audience is right there with them!  It's sort of a concert again, but sort of not.... The audience went completely crazy at the end of the song. Then the band went into an instrumental version of Hot Stuff while the cast took their bows. And then they switched to an instrumental of MacArthur Park while they used the LED screens to  show images of the members of the band who play off stage somewhere.

I don't know what else to say.  It's late so I really should get myself to bed now. But first let me dry off my keyboard. I'm not even at the theater and Friends Unknown STILL got to me.

Oh! Let me reiterate that what I just described was a preview show. It could still be tweaked. If you go to a show and it's different, please let me know! Also, when the musical played in La Jolla, they used the song My Life which is not being used (currently) on Broadway. I didn't see the show in La Jolla, so I'm not sure where the song fit in or why it was cut.  I can only assume that it just didn't quite fit in the way they wanted it to. OK - I'm off for the night now. I will upload some images later in the week for you - probably on the part 1 page.

 

 

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