The musical Donna Summer shows the disco queen in multiple incarnations
Donna Summer grew up singing in church, raising her voice in praise and prayer, but became a superstar lowering her voice in orgasmic moans while singing her signature song, “Love to Love You Baby.”
This conflict between public persona and private life is a common thread throughout “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical,” which runs through Thursday at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.
Three actresses play Summer at different stages of her life. Brittny Smith plays Diva Donna, the older, wiser Donna who opens the show and explains that it’s the gig of a lifetime, so she’ll look back on her whole life. Charis Gullage plays Disco Donna, the Donna the world knows best at the start and peak of her career. And Amahri Edwards-Jones plays Duckling Donna, so named because as a little girl, Donna thought she was ugly. Each actress portrays Summer beautifully, both in looks and manners, and performs her songs brilliantly.
Sometimes Smith, Gullage, and Edwards-Jones interact on stage — advising, adoring, and reminiscing about each other — including touching moments, like when Duckling Donna tells Disco Donna that she wants to grow up to be her. Smith also plays Donna’s mother, Mary Gaines, and Edwards-Jones stars as Donna’s oldest daughter, Mimi.
Although the show goes back and forth in the timeline of Summer’s life, it is cohesive. It starts with a concert, with a big production number featuring Diva Donna singing “The Queen is Back”. She goes to a recording studio in Germany with Disco Donna before she got famous, so shy about making those orgasmic moans that she asks everyone in the studio to close their eyes.
Scenes from Summer’s life are portrayed by the talented ensemble. There are scenes with his protective parents, his first real taste of freedom after joining a German production of “Hair”, and his struggle to be true to the gift of his voice while capitalizing on his talent.
It’s a music jukebox, and all of Summer’s great hits are here. “MacArthur Park” is used to illustrate how the star could really sing and not just moan through a song. “No More Tears” becomes the backdrop for an episode of domestic violence.
After explaining the inspiration for “She Works Hard for the Money”, the song is used to show how Summer took control of her career from record producer and Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart. “Dim All the Lights” is one of the highlights of the show, transforming from a sexy anthem to a touching goodbye to a beloved friend.
“Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” is an energetic show. The public is invited to dance and sing. Fans of Donna Summer will revel in this homage to the queen of disco and the 1970s, but there’s enough fun right here for casual fans.
If you are going to
“Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” runs through Thursday at the Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach.
For tickets and more information, call 561-832-7469 or visit Kravis.org.