by Stephanie Martignetti
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is a story about a strong woman driven by a cast of strong women. I always appreciate when a musical has a female character who is evolved beyond the confused, bright-eyed ingenue. I applaud it further when that role is a starring one. Well, we are now in the era of #MeToo and it’s so exciting to see the women of “Summer” tell their story. The audience is lucky to witness not just one, but three powerhouse actresses playing the role of Donna, not to mention an ensemble filled to the brim with talented ladies!
The three Donnas - Duckling, Disco, and Diva - played by Storm Lever, Ariana Debose, and LaChanze respectively, have their own unique interpretations of the role but have found a cohesiveness as well. They each take ownership of the stage in their individual ways. LaChanze, as Diva Donna, fully embodies feminine strength. She effortlessly embraces being the glue that holds the show together, weaving in and out of the story so beautifully. Her sheer command is a master class, and watching her sing “Friends Unknown” toward the end of the show is worth the price of admission.
Maybe it’s because I’m currently an ensemble member myself, maybe it’s because I had so many friends up on the stage, or maybe it’s because seeing an almost completely female ensemble is so thrilling, but as truly fabulous as the Donnas are, the ensemble is what really excited me! This group is 85% female and every single one is unique, super sexy, and a true chameleon. They seamlessly play countless characters (taking on male roles as well), dance their faces off, and sing hard! There are features galore, and across the board they shoulder the responsibilities deftly. The talent on the stage is impressive and undeniable. It was inspiring to see so many women not merely telling a story about “girl power” but being given the opportunity to live it as actresses.
With all this talk of the ladies, I must give a shout out to the talented men of the cast. An unexpected effect of women playing so many male characters was that when an actual man walked onstage, you immediately grasped his significance in Donna’s life. It allowed for those actors to be much more impactful.
For me the ultimate highlight of the night was the final number “Last Dance”. All the ladies are ladies and the men are men. Everyone looks amazing in their sparkling silver disco gear and it feels like a celebration of the evening, of the women, and of course, of Donna Summer’s life. It was a party on the stage and in the aisles.