Last night my husband and I were treated to tickets to “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” at the Straz Center in Tampa, Florida, in exchange for an honest blog post about the show. For background, I really enjoy musicals. I often get emotional and cry during musicals – from “Annie” to “Rent.” I knew that “Summer” would be a jukebox musical, using Donna Summer’s music to reveal part of her life story. I assumed I’d be dancing in my seat through most of the show. Other than that, I didn’t know what to expect. I was definitely not expecting a young woman in the lobby playing Donna Summer songs on a violin, but it was a great way to set the mood!
I was born right around when Donna Summer first released a hit single. The sultry “Love to Love you Baby” helped define the disco era of the ‘70s, and Donna was known as the Disco Queen. And this is when the show starts getting good… we see young Donna leave home and spread her wings as a singer / songwriter, and suddenly shoot off into stardom. Along the way we learn about her family, her loves, her losses, and other traumas and celebrations in her life.
Three actresses take on the role of Donna during the show, at three different eras of her life. We were lucky to catch understudy Layla Brent-Tompkins as young Donna. She was spirited and delightful. I was thoroughly impressed by Charis Gullage as Donna during her disco days. Her look, voice and poise were great for the character and her costumes were amazing.
The dancing is very fast paced and constant. New and old styles blend seamlessly. I was hoping for a little more authentic throwback though. Some members of the ensemble were less than magical. A particular purse-snatching scene looked like some inexperienced thespians somehow wandered on stage with Donna. There were also audio/mic problems throughout opening night, leaving people wondering what actors said as they walked on stage, or blending the wrong mic at the wrong time. Perhaps due to COVID some last-minute changes were made, because there was some polish lacking that the Straz Center usually brings in volumes.
If you go to see “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical,” in town through January 16, you will probably recognize and enjoy many of her hits – “She Works Hard For the Money,” “Bad Girl,” “MacArthur Park,” “Hot Stuff,” etc. Did you know Donna Summer was the first female singer to garner three #1 hits in the same calendar year?
Tickets start at just $39 and can be found here. The show is performed without an intermission. It should also come with a trigger warning. Some abuse in Donna’s life is not simply hinted at, but hit home brutally. And her publicised remarks against the LGBT+ community are included.
Here’s my tiny spoiler: The show closed with “Last Dance” and the audience was dancing, clapping and singing along by then. When the song ended many people were expecting an encore, or calling out for one, and we were kind of shocked when final bows ended the show there. One more great dance or pop number at the end would really thrill audiences!
COVID Notice: The theater is operating at full capacity for this show. While social distancing is not in place, masks are required indoors for all audience members and no food or drink will be allowed inside the theater. Attendees also have to show proof of a negative COVID test or vaccination.