SUMMER Turns Up The Heat At The Fox Theatre

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Dan’yelle Williamson ( Diva Donna ), Alex Hairston ( Disco Donna ), Olivia Elease Hardy ( Duckling Donna ) and the Company of SUMMER © Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

The holidays are finally over. 2019 is in the history books. For some people, probably more than you might expect, the winter months can be pretty tough to bear. After putting so much energy into the holidays you're now facing several months of cold weather, seasonal colds, bare trees, the tedium of getting back to five-day work weeks, and no real social holidays until the weather starts to warm up, Depressing, isn't it? What can you do about it? 

You could turn your winter blues into hot disco hits and smoldering soulful ballads and get re-energized with Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, running January 15 -26, 2020 at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis. It's presented as a hybrid of a live concert with scenes from Summer's life woven throughout and it's a good format for this type of story. The show runs at a brisk 90 minutes with no intermission, so you'll be home in time to see the news for school closings if the weather reports are ominous.  

Whether you remember seeing  Donna Summer during her reign as the Disco Queen, or as a staple of the early days of MTV, or you're only just discovering how she blazed her own trail through the male-dominated music industry, there's something for everyone in this show. There's also acknowledgement of  some very personal battles that the talented performer from Boston endured along her life's journey. Those moments help to tell the Donna Summer story, but the show doesn't dwell on the negatives. It's a celebration of a woman who picked herself up time and time again, improving herself in some way each time. She's left an enduring legacy behind, and some really terrific music. 

Summer's story is simply too grand for just one actress to cover, so audiences get to enjoy not one, not two, but three extremely talented performers in their own right  presenting the superstar from three different periods in her life. Olivia Elease Hardy embodies the young Miss Summer as her talents start to blossom. Alex Hairston is the disco era Donna and brings her powerful voice and immense dancing talents to this high energy role. Dan'Yelle Williamson, whom you have seen on the National Tour of The Lion King or heard on the soundtrack for the film 12 Years a Slave  belted out the "Diva" era Donna's biggest hits. This trio was superb, particularly on the tender song "I Love You"--which also featured Steven Grant Douglas as Bruce Sudano, Donna's musical collaborator and eventual husband--as well as all the favorites like "Bad Girls," "On the Radio," "She Works Hard for the Money,"  "Hot Stuff," and "Last Dance." How many musicals have you been to where the performers were getting standing ovations from members of the audience in the middle of the act and not just at the curtain call? Yeah, that's what I'm telling you--they were that good!

The supporting cast is purposefully androgynous and that works well here, particularly in the Club 54 atmosphere that the show often invoked.  Everyone in the show looked absolutely incredible and performed one of the tightest, pretty much perfect dance-heavy productions I've ever witnessed. Any local dancers and dance students should clear some time from their busy schedules to watch this cast in action. It was more than just precision--everyone who moved to a beat on the hallowed Fox stage in this performance was feeling it. Arm swings, hip shakes, you name it--every little nuance that a novice wouldn't even consider while they concentrate on getting the footwork right looked fluid, natural and filled with passion. I don't know how many National Tour shows get nominated for Tony Awards for dancing or costumes, but they'd get my vote! Sergio Trujillo's choreography and Paul Tazewell's costumes made this cast one gorgeous feast for the senses and a show I won't soon forget. 
 
Directed by Des McAnuff from the book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary and Des McAnuff and featuring songs by Donna Summer, electronica and dance music pioneer Giorgio Moroder, Paul Jabara and others, Summer: The Donna Summers Musical is a production that St. Louis theatre fans may be inclined to overlook in a season that includes Wicked, The Band's Visit, and Hamilton. Don't make that mistake, especially if you're still kicking yourself for passing on last season's surprise favorite Come From Away. The dancing alone should not e missed! You might learn some new things about one of the biggest stars of her time, and how Donna Summer overcame a great deal of tragedy in her life to become a triumphant and powerful woman in the music world. Tickets and more information can be found at www.FabulousFox.com.
Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0