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Review: SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL at the Princess Of Wales Theatre

Review: SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL at the Princess Of Wales Theatre I was born too late to enjoy disco, too early to quite understand what Billie Eilish is. Fortunately, good music knows no generation, and when "Enough is Enough" comes on the playlist, I expect everyone from ages 8-80 to jump up and dance with me. And, indeed, we did dance at SUMMER: The Donna Summer musical, visiting Toronto now under the auspices of Mirvish at the Princess of Wales Theatre.

In SUMMER, Donna Summer is portrayed by three different performers representing different stages of life: Duckling Donna (Olivia Elease Hardy), Disco Donna (Alex Hairston), and Diva Donna (Dan'yelle Williamson). All three are excellent, and the music in this show couldn't be better. The three Donnas belt all of Summer's greatest disco hits, including "Love to Love You Baby", but also give nods to her forays into pop ("Hot Stuff") and Christian music ("I Believe in Jesus").

For a jukebox musical, SUMMER is surprisingly nuanced in its biography. The book neither glosses over nor romanticises the darker moments in Summer's life, including her drug addiction, lawsuits, and sexual trauma. What emerges is a portrait of a talented and ambitious artist who basked in both the strobe lights of the dance floor and the stained glass of the Church, in which Summer was raised, and to which she returned mid-career.

Interestingly, director Des McAnuff chose to cast mostly women, who outnumber the men at least 2:1. Summer's collaborators Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte are played by actresses Kyli Rae and Jennifer Byrne, respectively. Except for one short duet, the voices in the cast album are entirely female. This gives the show the opportunity to explore with greater depth some of the issues that Summer faced in her life and career, including sexual violence. One of the musical's strongest scenes transposes Summer's 1979 hit "Enough is Enough" (sans Streisand) on top of an assault by her ex-lover. The police, who eventually arrive to haul the assailant away, are both played by women in intentionally unconvincing drag. It gives the number, and the show, a sense of self-determination: this is what we can do, and this is the soundtrack to our empowerment.

If there's one weak link in this show, it's Sergio Trujillo's cookie-cutter Broadway choreography. The moves in SUMMER are clean, precise, coordinated; they don't capture the sexual, coke-fuelled energy that made disco the defining musical genre of the 70s and Donna Summer a star.

Fortunately, you can bring your own choreography. Just jump out of your seat and dance.

SUMMER runs through 22 March at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West, Toronto.

For more information or to buy tickets, click here.

Photo credit: Matthew Murphy

Regional Awards

From This Author - Louis Train

Louis Train is a writer, editor, and researcher from Toronto, Canada. He has written for Broadwayworld in three countries: Russia, the United Kingdom, and his home country, Canada.

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