Before they bring "Hot Stuff" to the country, the cast and creative team of the upcoming national tour of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical spoke to Playbill at Open Jar Studios on a recent break during rehearsal. All of them talked at length about their personal connections to Summer’s music and their deep love of disco.
For Alex Hairston, who plays Disco Donna, Summer resonated before she was even cast. “I remember seeing the show on Broadway from nearly the last seat in the balcony, so pretty as far back as you can get, and still feeling so overwhelmed and so drawn in and saying to myself, ‘Man, I got to play that role,’” she said. “There's a lot of crazy parallels between what I feel happened to Donna and things that are going on in my life.”
Likewise, Dan’yelle Williams immediately identified with Diva Donna. “I am a diva in my life. I'm the good kind though; I'm not a mean diva," she says. "I'm very nice, but I do know what I have and it's all about stepping into your power and allowing yourself to shine and really come through.”
Olivia Elease Hardy, the tour’s Duckling Donna, relates to many of Donna’s songs on a personal level, especially “MacArthur Park.”“It’s a fierce song but if you listen to the lyrics, it's kind of silly and I feel like that describes me…," she says. "I'll be fierce if you need to, but I'm really, really silly on the inside.”
And for many, it's the music itself, not just Summer, that speaks to them. Choreographer Sergio Trujillo is an admitted lifelong disco fanatic. “I grew up in the '70s and '80s, so [choreographing this show] was me just turning on the music and dancing,” Trujillo said. “I think this particular genre is a soundtrack to a very, very specific time in our country’s music history, when our country hadn’t lost its innocence and there was a sort of joie de vivre.”
And a lot of that came from Summer's songs, many of which she wrote herself. Steven Grant Douglass, who plays Bruce Sudano, praises the power of her lyrics. “She's so vulnerable, lyrically,” he said. “She explains what it is to experience the human life and all of its highs and lows.”
And even as Summer heads out on tour, John Gardiner, who plays Neil Bogart, is thinking of the next Disco Divas whose stories need to be told onstage. Perhaps even Disco Divos? “Honestly, I think a BeeGees musical would be fascinating, because the brotherhood that's in there,” he said. “It came to mind just because of the sort of sisterhood that takes place in the Donna Summer Musical.”
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical will kick off its the North American tour at the RBTL Auditorium in Rochester, New York, September 29–October 5, followed by its official press opening at the Connor Palace Theatre in Cleveland, October 8–27.
The three Donnas are joined by Douglas, Gardiner, and Erick Pinnick as Andrew Gaines. The ensemble features Jennifer Byrne, Jay Garcia, Tamrin Goldberg, Cameron Anika Hill, Brooke Lacy, Trish Lindström, Mara Lucas, Jo’Nathan Michael, DeQuina Moore, Kyli Rae, Crystal Sha’nae, De’Ja Simone, Sir Brock Warren, Candace J. Washington, Brittany Nicole Williams, and Jennifer Wolfe.
After Cleveland, the tour will play Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Tempe, St. Louis, Denver, Chicago, Durham, Schenectady, Dayton, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, West Palm Beach, Tampa, Miami, Greenville, Nashville, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Washington, and Boston, with additional engagements to be announced.
Summer features a book by Tony nominee Colman Domingo, Robert Cary, and Tony winner Des McAnuff, with songs by Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Jabara, and others. The musical is directed by McAnuff and choreographed by Tony winner Sergio Trujillo, with music supervision by Ron Melrose, scenic design by Tony nominee Robert Brill, costumes by Tony winner Paul Tazewell, lighting by Tony winner Howell Binkley, sound by Tony nominee Gareth Owen, and projections by Sean Nieuwenhuis.
The tour is produced by the Dodgers and Tommy Mottola.
Summer includes more than 20 of Summer's well-known hits, including “Love to Love You, Baby,” “Hot Stuff,” and “MacArthur Park.” The production arrived on Broadway after a developmental world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse in late 2017.
For additional information, visit TheDonnaSummerMusical.com.