On International Women’s Day, March 8, just one day after a nor’easter dumped a snow-rain-mix of slushy combination on the tri-state area, a ray of sunshine peeked from Broadway announcing the arrival of “Summer, the Donna Summer Musical” in a tribute to the avowed queen of disco.
It’s fitting that today with the last days of winter “we’ll give you a little Summer” the host said.
A chuckle from critics, producers, actors, music specialists and fans of the singer resonated with expectations of a preview showcase that morning that warmed the entire soundstage.
Slated for previews beginning March 28 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, the official opening date is spring 2018, April 23. Directed by Tony Award winner Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys, Tommy) the preview performance invited prestigious and creative investors in the auto-biographical life story of the phenomenal woman who indelibly imprinted her stamp on the music industry during the 1970s.
I was privileged to be seated next to Bruce Sudano, Summer’s husband of 32 years.
In front of me was Ron Melrose, the musical director; behind me were lighting and costume specialists, choreographer and two seats away, Tommy Mottola, the co-producer, former SONY Music chairman, former husband of Mariah Carey and an individual associated with many creative music entities.
“She was an 18- time Grammy nominee winning five times and the first female to win a Grammy in the rock category.”
As much as I had seen the diva in concerts at Roseland Ballroom, Jones Beach, the Apollo Theater and Madison Square Garden that last mention almost floored me. I was not surprised. Summer was electric. She mastered rhythm ‘n blues, gospel, reggae and every genre she attempted.
I clearly recall hearing her music for the first time on radio. It was 1975 and Frankie Crocker introduced her as German – actually she was born in Boston but moved to Munich, Germany to advance her music career and in the process became a success there.
No one on radio was hotter than Crocker. He was a personality that decided hits just by spinning a disc.
On an afternoon when he introduced new music — he played longer than any song I had ever heard on radio — a track with only six words driving the tune, I was transfixed listening to the repeated. “I Love To Love You, Baby.”
It was new, infectious and very different from anything repeated on the WBLS-FM playlist.
Crocker probably played the 17-minute version and still I wanted more. So did his audience of Black, contemporary radio listeners.
Later on clubs delivered longer sets playing back-to-back seven inch vinyl versions.
Still clubbers wanted more.
It seemed like ages after that I actually got a glimpse of this revolutionary individual. She was young, beautiful and glamorous.
And collaborations with Germany-based Giorgio Moroder she became an instant hit all over America particularly in clubs decorated by mirrored balls that spun from overhead as dancers sweated to each and every Summer song.
“Last dance,” “Spring Affair,” “Heaven Knows,””Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls,” “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) “On The Radio,” “Dim All The Lights,” “MacArthur Park,” “I Feel Love” and “She Works hard For The Money.”
The latter, a title song from the album of the same name emerged an anthem for the women’s movement. The compilation yielded a reggae -styled song called “Unconditional Love” which featured vocals by a young, Black British group known as Musical Youth.
That group became known here for their pop / reggae release “Pass The Dutchy.”
According to Wikipedia, “Lyrically, the album dealt with subjects such as social injustice (“Stop, Look and Listen”), Jesus Christ (“He’s a Rebel”) and “People People” a song that focused on missing children.
Summer toured extensively and by 1989, Summer and her husband, considered doing a new kind of reality-based sitcom.
Allegedly, “it would be based on their own hectic household.”
According to Sudano, at the time, the household comprised the couple and their children Amanda, Brooklyn and Mimi, two sets of in-laws and a maid.
He explained as talks continued the “television network started changing the premise of the show, making it less funny.”
“And because we were an interracial couple, they didn’t want us to be married anymore.”
Apparently, their marital status was “an issue…so with that mentality we just backed out of it.”
Summer appeared in numerous movies and made guest appearances on many television shows.
Summer was a non-smoker who had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
Reportedly she believed her condition stemmed from inhaling toxic fumes and dust after the 9/11 terrorist attack here.
When she died, May 17, 2012, Barbra Streisand, Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige, Gloria Gaynor, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, Janet Jackson, Liza Minnelli and a galaxy of stars lamented her untimely passing
“Michelle and I were saddened to hear about the passing of Donna Summer,” President Barack Obama said, “A five-time Grammy Award winner, Donna truly was the ‘Queen of Disco.’ Her voice was unforgettable and the music industry has lost a legend far too soon.”
Beyonce said: “Donna Summer made music that moved me both emotionally and physically to get up and dance. You could always hear the deep passion in her voice. She was so much more than the queen of disco she became known for, she was an honest and gifted singer with flawless vocal talent. I’ve always been a huge fan and was honored to sample one of her songs. She touched many generations and will be sadly missed. My love goes out to her family during this difficult time. Love, B.”
Summer was the first artist to have three consecutive double albums reach number one on the Billboard 200 chart and charted four number-one singles in the U.S. within a 12-month period. Summer has reportedly sold more than 140 million records worldwide. She is one of the world’s best-selling artists of all time.
She also charted two number-one singles on the R&B charts in the United States and a number-one in the United Kingdom.
Summer was posthumously announced to be one of the 2013 inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was inducted on April 18, 2013.
In the musical, three actresses will portray the singer throughout various periods of her life and career.
LaChanze will portray the Diva Donna, Ariana DeBose will reprise the Disco Donna and Storm Lever is expected to introduce the Duckling Donna.
An-all female band of dancers and actors will back the Donnas through renditions of memorable Summer hits.
From last week’s early glimpse, “Summer” seems poised for a long Broadway run through all four seasons.
– Catch You On The Inside!