Charis Gullage, Brittny Smith and Company are dazzling, and top notch

By: Jan. 12, 2022
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Over the past several years, one thing is for certain Broadway audiences and Regional audiences alike come out in droves to witness, experience, dance, and sing along with well known songs that have defined music across many generations. With shows like Ain't too Proud: Life and Times of the Temptations, and MJ: The Michael Jackson Musical, Broadway is no stranger to this type of tale. Tuesday night was no exception as the doors of Morsani Hall at the Straz Center burst at the seams with only the glitz and glamour that the Queen of Disco could bring to the party. Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is a jam-packed 115 minute spectacle of grandeur. The talent here is absolutely no joke and is full of all the Donna Summer songs we have come to know and love.

From the opening number "The Queen is Back" from her 2008 recording Crayons, the cast led by not one but 3 iterations of Donna Summer burst onto the stage with gusto. Crayons the final studio album from Summer proved to be a modern flair of disco music to bring her style to fans old and new. The three iterations of Donna known as "Diva Donna," "Disco Donna," and "Duckling Donna all proved they did not come to play, they came to slay and leave it all on the stage, with the audience wanting more. After the opening number "Diva Donna" who acts as the stories' Narrator exclaimed, "A modest opening don't you think?" Brittny Smith carried the adult form of "Donna" with such sass and class it was like watching a true diva at work. In this story Diva Donna also doubles as Donna's Mother Mary Gaines, a religious by-the-book mother with a heart of gold. Disco Donna played exceptionally well by Charis Gullage had the vocal power to blow the roof of Morsani Hall. Her "MacArthur Park" was so exquisite it was as if the real Donna Summer was reincarnated in front of our very eyes. You could close your eyes and for a minute you were one with Donna and her song. For Duckling Donna the Understudy took the stage and was everything and more that we needed in the childlike persona of young Donna Summer. Standout moments were "Stamp Your Feet" and "On My Honor." Out of all the leading women Charis Gullage takes the best in show here, here vocals are astounding and effervescent, if there was a role she was made for...this is it.

Rounding out the outstanding supporting cast we have Porter Lee Anderson III as Andrew Gaines, Donna's strict no-nonsense loving father, John Guaragna as Bruce Sudano Donna's 2nd Husband, Aubrey Young as Joyce Bogart, and Christopher Lewis as Neil Bogart/Gunther. From top to bottom the cast some not listed here are standouts through and through and make for a seamless Company.

The one thing that really stood out was how much story was actually told. Most of times when a Jukebox Musical such as this takes the stage, one would expect a concert of the Artist' most memorable songs. That of which does not disappoint here, however, the script itself lends to the story some things that some may and may not know about the Queen of Disco. You see the pain, the anguish, the heartache, the abuse both physically and sexually, and the struggle to make it to the top. You see a girl with passion grow up to be a woman with heart, grit and fight that truly makes her a Queen of her time. You feel what its like to be the only African American in Germany in a time where racial divide was at its highest. You feel the struggle from a woman trying to do all she can to conquer an industry dominated by men. There are a few songs thrown in too, for good measure; 23 songs to be exact. All encompassing a career that goes untouched even to this day. With hits like MacArthur Park, On the Radio, Hot Stuff, Dim All the Lights, Heaven Knows, I Feel Love, Love to Love You Baby, She Works Hard for the Money, Bad Girls, I Love You, and of course Last Dance among many others; Donna Summer proves more than ever to be the true Queen of Disco.

If you're looking for a ticket, or something fun to do; look no further than Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, on-stage at the Straz Center's Morsani Hall through Sunday. To take the stage and blow the roof off is a feat all in itself, but to have the audience dancing and singing along from their seats and more importantly on their feet is a job well done. That is exactly what the cast, crew, and company have done here. From its first announcement in 2020 that it would be arriving in Tampa and leaving its mark I was over-the-moon excited. For COVID-19 and the entire shutdown to happen was heartbreaking to experience. For this very tour to come on social media and proclaim that the tour is officially over was unbearable, but to see this very tour take the stage Tuesday night to a packed audience only one word remains....UNFORGETTABLE.

So do yourself a favor, we know you all "...Work Hard for the Money...," so support the Straz Center and exceptional touring companies such as this. We thought that with the onslaught of COVID-19, we were experiencing our "Last Dance..." but Broadway is back and bigger than ever, all its missing is you. So as we "Dim All the Lights," we have left a seat open just for sure to wear your mask and follow all protocols for this is one night you DO NOT WANT TO MISS!

Photo Credit: The Straz Center


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