Summer: The Donna Summer Musical on Broadway
by Mo Brady
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is many things: a disco-fueled retrospective, a shimmery jukebox story, glitter-laden revue. But however you label it, it’s a good time. At the performance I attended, the show so delighted theatergoers that the audience stood up two numbers before the finale and stayed fist-pumping through the final bow.
Summer is also a showcase for the talented choreographer Sergio Trujillo to take on the disco era. It’s a task he is well-equipped to handle, as his signature is to infuse musical genres with powerful, visceral movement. Trujillo’s Broadway choreography has ranged in style from the skeletal silliness of The Addams Family to the smooth stankiness of Memphis. His staging for Jersey Boys is so spot-on, it’s hard to believe that The Four Seasons didn’t dance when they originally performed their songs.
In Summer, Trujillo again hits the mark with choreography that somehow feels of the era and yet distinctly his own. He doesn’t use the familiar score of Donna Summer hits as a platform to present dance. Rather, he choreographs inside the pop icon’s catalog of music, accentuating the beat and the soul of the songs.
To do this, Trujillo has assembled a dozen talented female ensemblists. Many of these actors have experience executing his athletic movement, as the cast includes alums from many of his shows including Jersey Boys (Jessica Rush and Kaleigh Cronin), Flashdance (Rebecca Riker and Mackenzie Bell) and A Bronx Tale both at Papermill Playhouse (Kimberly Dodson) and on Broadway (Wonu Ogunfowora). These twelve ferocious women tie the show together, quite literally setting to stage for Donna Summer’s success.
As the plot weaves its way through Summer’s life, it showcases the distinct energy of each woman. In the opener “The Queen Is Back,” Rebecca Riker blows us away out of the gate with her specificity and polish. In “Stamp Your Feet,” Wonu Ogunfowora brings grit and weight to the movement, elliding herself within the song’s groove. In “Bad Girls,” Kimberly Dodson executes the choreography with an effervescent danger that sparkles.
Throughout the show, Jenny Laroche dances as though she’s inventing movement on the spot - the choreography lives so thoroughly inside her body. Mackenzie Bell brings sass and strength to every step and Afra Hines imbues the staging with her smooth bravado and elegance.
There is a convention in the production’s staging that the women of the ensemble play both male and female roles. More than a gimmick, this concept allows the audience to view the female and male characters as equally strong. Summer and the women that surround her demand to be seen as both beautiful and brawny. Thanks to Trujillo’s electric choreography, both are on full display.