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Review: SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL at the Fisher Theatre is a Fresh Take on Jukebox Musicals

See some of Donna Summer's biggest hits at the Fisher Theatre until March 20th.

Summer: The Donna Summer Musical (Non Eq)
MacArthur Park (L to R) Brittny Smith ("Diva Donna"),
Charis Gullage ("Disco Donna"), Amahri Edwards-Jones ("Duckling Donna")
and the ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
Photo courtesy of Denise Trupe

Looking for some "hot stuff" as winter is drawing to a close? From now until March 20th, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is playing at Detroit's Fisher Theatre. Summer played on Broadway throughout 2018 and later toured North America in 2019. The show was nominated for two 2018 Tony Awards, including Best Leading Actress and Best Featured Actress in a Musical for LaChanze and Ariana DeBose, respectively.

Using Donna Summer's music as a backdrop, Summer tells the story of LaDonna Adrian Gaines with three actresses to play her at different points in her life. In chronological order, these three characters are billed as Duckling Donna, Disco Donna, and Diva Donna. The musical is staged as a sort of concert, where the audience is actively part of the show and is encouraged to engage with the actors onstage, most notably Brittny Smith's Diva Donna.

Whether you're cognizant of it or not, chances are that you've been exposed to Donna Summer's music at one point or another in your life. Summer includes her biggest hits, including "MacArthur Park," "No More Tears (Enough is Enough)," "Bad Girls," "She Works Hard for the Money," "Heaven Knows," "Last Dance," and so much more.

Though the show sets out to tell the story of Donna Summer (and it certainly does), many of the emotional highpoints are glossed over pretty quickly due to the show's 100-minute runtime. That said, the musical, above all else, successfully serves as an honor to Donna Summer and her impact on the music industry. From the moment the show starts with "The Queen Is Back," you won't forget that Donna Summer was and will always be the "Queen of Disco."

As the Duckling, Disco, and Diva Donnas respectively, Amahri Edwards-Jones, Charis Gullage, and Brittny Smith are together and individually a powerhouse.

With her bold demeanor and a charming smile, Smith grabs the audience's attention from the moment she makes her dramatic entrance, and holds onto it as the main narrator of this monumental show. Her star power starts with the aforementioned "The Queen is Back," and continues all the way through her standout moments in the finale song, appropriately being "Last Dance."

Meanwhile, being the Donna era in which many of the events that impacted Summer's music career took place, Gullage captures eyes with her renditions of numbers including "Hot Stuff," "Love to Love You Baby," and "Bad Girls." Gullage carries her moments of the story with an admirable poise, adding further authenticity to the script.

Lastly, and certainly not least, Edwards-Jones's soulful renditions of songs like "I Remember Yesterday," "On My Honor," and "Pandora's Box" are just about guaranteed to make your jaw drop. She brings a believable childlike innocence to Duckling Donna to the point where it's hard to believe that someone so seemingly small has such an standout voice.

Jukebox musicals have become more common as the millennium started, so it could have been easy for Summer: The Donna Summer Musical to fall into the usual biographical musical formula. That said, Summer somehow feels fresher and unlike anything Detroit has seen in a long time. Original book writers Colman Domingo, Robert Cary, and Des McAnuff really make audiences feel like they've stepped into a Donna Summer concert - her story told directly from her lips just for you.


For more information or to buy tickets to Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, visit broadwayindetroit.com, call 800-982-2787, or visit the Fisher Theatre in Detroit.

To keep updated with Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, visit their website at thedonnasummermusical.com or follow them on Twitter at @DonnaSummerBway, on Instagram at @donnasummerbway, and on Facebook at facebook.com/DonnaSummerBway.

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From This Author - Stefani Chudnow

Stefani Chudnow is one of BroadwayWorld Detroit’s Contributing Editors, as well as a freelance writer and part of the editorial team at PathologyO... (read more about this author)


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