This “Summer” Heats Things Up at La Jolla Playhouse

by Kevin M. Thomas, @ReelKev

“Summer” is coming to Southern California. Not speaking of one of the four seasons, but something even hotter: “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” makes its world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse and is selling out most of its run through Dec. 17 faster than you can sing Donna Summer’s hit “Love to Love You Baby.”

The show is set during Summer’s final concert and likely has numerous flashback sequences as it stars three actresses playing the musical diva.

Tony winner (for “The Color Purple”) LaChanze plays the Diva Donna while Ariana DeBose (from “A Bronx Tale” and “Hamilton”) takes on Disco Donna and Storm Lever (of La Jolla’s “Freaky Friday”) plays the younger Donna.

These three women are set up for success in taking the demanding role of Donna Summer, whose musical career spanned over four decades and garnered five Grammy Awards and 20 #1 dance club hits.

The divas of Donna have been given the strongest creative team which make the show likely Broadway bound.

First, we have Tony winner and La Jolla’s former artistic director Des McAnuff who contributes to the book besides directing. The show’s book was also written by Robert Cary who has done many of the recent flood of musicals going live on TV and Colman Domingo, one of Progressive Pulse’s favorites artists who has been Tony-nominated for acting in “The Scottsboro Boys” as well as written and acted in many one-man shows and acted in films such as “The Butler” and “Birth of a Nation.” The final ingredient to making this a delicious triumph is choreographer Sergio Trujillo who has won praise and accolades for Broadway’s “Memphis,” “Jersey Boys” and “On Your Feet.”

Then there’s Donna Summer herself.

Dubbed the Queen of Disco, she was much more than that. Sure, her first big hit, “Love to Love You Baby,” was a juggernaut on both the dance and pop charts. That song, along with the equally moany and heavy dance beat of “I Feel Love” made it easy to dismiss Summer as the dance club diva of the month.

But her singing voice rose above the stereotypes with the release of her 1977 concept album “Once Upon a Time,” which featured her first non-dance Top 40 hit “I Love You” which was a beautiful showcase of her extraordinary voice. That was a breakthrough year for Summer, also having a hit and Grammy with “Last Dance,” which successfully mixed strong vocals with a dance beat.

Summer is the only singer to have three consecutive #1 double albums and defines what a crossover artist is, scoring great reviews and charting hit songs on many genres – dance, soul, inspirational, rock and pop. In fact, in 1979, the year of her landmark “Bad Girls” album, Summer was nominated for Grammys for Best Disco Recording, Best Pop Female, Best Soul Female and winning for Best Rock Female – all for different songs.

Like many other performers with a tenured career, Summer’s had highs and lows. But every time you’d think she was down for the count, she’d re-emerge with a hit that was fitting for the music scene at the time. Some of her peaks later in her career included “This Time I Know It’s For Real” and “She Works Hard for the Money.”

Even with the release of her last studio album, “Crayons,” which came 14 years after her previous album, Summer’s fans still showed the diva’s got it. While the album didn’t chart higher than #17 on Billboard, it did produce three #1 dance chart hits.

This quick musical master class is meant just to whet your appetite and prep you to get your groove on for this highly anticipated show about one of music’s greatest artists.

For stories about her upbringing, Christianity and controversial blip with the LGBT community, we’ve left those stories in the hands of the talents involved in the La Jolla production.

For more information, go to www.lajollaplayhouse.org.

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