It’s been a pretty good season for “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical,” the show named after the undisputed disco queen of the 70s and 80s. First the bouncy boisterous show hustled past $1Million at the box office. Then earlier in the month cast members LaChanze and Ariana DeBose were both nominated for Tony awards for Best Performance by an actress in a Leading role in a musical and Best performance by an actress in a featured role in a musical respectively.
Keep in mind it’s just Memorial Day Weekend. But the reason you should see the show has more to do with what it stands for and its impact in musicals rather than the accolades and boats loads of cash the producers are now swimming in like Scrouge McDuck.
If you want to know what the tribute musical to Rihanna or Beyonce will look like, you need go no further than the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
Donna Summer, for all intended purposes was the Riri and Bey of the music scene. The Boston raised, Catholic shamed singer survived a whole hell of a lot before we began to associate her as the harbinger of big hair and synthesized vocals. She is the the precursor for the misunderstood genius who wanted to expand as an artist but was facing opposition from her fans, family, and friends.
The story of Summer is so big it took three brilliant women to portray her. LaChanze, Ariana DeBose, and Storm Lever portray the singer at different times in her life, and at some moments all together. When they sing, they sound like an afro-future acid trip rendition of Destiny’s Child, all having distinct voices but carrying the singular message of one woman.
Let’s be real, Broadway is opening its gate to what can lovingly be called the diva-VH1 story set to music. 2015’s Gloria Estefan’s biopic Musical “On Your Feet: The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan” moved audience members as well as shows like “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” Jukebox musicals are proving a great set list, some room to dance and a semi functioning plotline can be enough to bring in the crowds.
I get it. Who wants to travel across the world for seven hours, then take another seven hours navigating four blocks of Broadway just to be challenged by the art they paid upwords of $200 they came to watch. And this is not to say the musicals above don’t have merit, and are not fun. But they are not designed to provoke. They are charged with being familiar and enticing people.
Summer, however, is offering a little more, providing the DNA and a very large platform on how to acknowledge the tremendous work of a black female artist. Just take a look at some of the songs Ms. Summer has offered society.
As the Queen of Disco she earned 14 Number 1 songs on the dance charts, and had three Top Billboard 100 albums: “Live and More,” “Bad Girls” and “On the Radio – Greatest Hits Volumes I & II.”
Maybe I was listening to too much Still Processing and their recent episode about black male privilege that Summer’s performance came back to me. Her career was amazing. Her life story was riveting. But like so many black women, I have to ask if she was really recognized for her greatness during her career?
Thankfully we have a chance to recognize Summer’s brilliance and be a little more cognizant of our sisters contributions as we are our male counterparts.
Summer is still riding Springs breeze into the Tony season. I don’t know if the musical will win, it had some problems: a thin plot, a very odd gender specific casting choice that left me asking “Why?” and a “Beloved” like ending that could have stopped 3 songs earlier and been perfect. But that should not stop you from seeing this enjoyable show and paying homage to a woman who paved the way for so many entertainers to openly talk about sexuality, and love in the same soprano laced breath.