Review: The Donna Summer Musical Brings Nostalgia, Joy, and Empowering Music to The Benedum

Donna Summer Musical Review
Photo via The Cultural Trust

Go see the show—if you’re like me, it will leave you nostalgic, teary-eyed and joyous all at one.

On Tuesday night, November 16, 2021, my friend, Sara P and I went to see “Summer, The Donna Summer Musical.” It was the first time that I had been to a musical, and the Benedum, since March of 2020, when Sarah and I went to see “The Band.” I believe that we saw that musical on March 13, 2019, and several days later the world as we know it went upside down. I have to say that this joyous, sometimes sad, musical was a great way to get back into the theater. The Benedum Center employed Covid-19/pandemic safety measures—you had to show proof of vaccination status (or proof of a negative covid test) before you were permitted to enter the theater and they seemed to be strict about enforcing these protocols. For me, personally, this protocol made the show more enjoyable and comfortable.

I want to note, and emphasize, that I am not a musician or a professional critic in any way, shape, or form. The first thing I want to address is that there was some controversy surrounding Donna Summer denouncing the LGBT community. During the musical, one of the singers who played the “older” version of Donna Summer, (Brittny Smith) made it clear that this perception was not accurate, and that Donna Summer was not an opponent of the LGBT community. The musical implied that she had lost friends to the AIDS epidemic. With this controversy out of the way, the LGBT community should feel comfortable attending this musical and, if you do not recall hearing her music on the radio as I did as a teenager, to look up her music. From the LGBT history that I recall, disco was a big part of “gay life” and a musical about one of its biggest star was both a history lesson, and, hopefully, a way for younger people to discover a great musician.

The Benedum Center employed Covid-19/pandemic safety measures—you had to show proof of vaccination status (or proof of a negative covid test) before you were permitted to enter the theatre and they seemed to be strict about enforcing these protocols. For me, personally, this protocol made the show more enjoyable and comfortable.

Three actresses, Brittny Smith as Diva Donna, Charis Gullage as Disco Donna and Amahri Edwards-Jones as duckling Donna portrayed Donna Summer in the various phases of her life. As far as I was concerned, all three could sing very well, although Sarah P and I agreed that Diva Donna was the better singer. The musical, which lasted about an hour and a half, was very fast paced and contained twenty-three songs. I recognized eleven of them, which I think is great because I discovered music that was new to me. The music, wow, it was so thrilling and powerful to hear her songs.

I am a fan of disco, I love the happiness and sheer exuberance of the music. And Donna Summer was labeled “The Queen of Disco” during her heyday in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The musical, through her popular songs, follows Ms. Summer’s life. I should warn that there are a few portions of the play that deal with the fact that Ms. Summers experienced several types of abuse during her life, but these episodes, although uncomfortable, were made more palatable by the empowering music.  As someone who has never read a biography about her, I found the story of her life to be fascinating.

So this review is based upon a layperson’s opinion–and my opinion? Go see the show—if you’re like me, it will leave you nostalgic, teary-eyed and joyous all at one. You can’t ask for anything better from a musical.

Summer: The Donna Summer Musical runs through Sun, Nov 21, 2021. Tickets are available through the Cultural Trust Box Office.

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