Aurora’s “Summer season” musical tells advanced story behind disco star’s sound

The Nineteen Seventies in the US have been flanked by a extremely protested conflict, political scandals, surging inflation and unemployment that gave solution to a spike in crime. That, paired with persisting hatred towards Black, Latino and queer communities, left many looking for areas the place they may very well be free. In walks disco — an explosive musical style with origins in these communities — and that its indeniable queen was Donna Summer season. 

Lawrenceville Artwork Middle’s Aurora Theatre will share this queen’s journey by disco and past in Summer season: The Donna Summer season Musical. The present will run by April 9.

Summer season explores the rise, reign and reflections of Donna Summer season all through the levels of her life: Duckling Donna, performed by Jessenia Ingram; Disco Donna, performed by Desiré Gaston; and Diva Donna, performed by Marliss Ameia.

“What I like most to date about enjoying Donna Summer season is having the ability to dive into her basis and uncover how she grew into changing into the queen we got here to know,” Ingram stated.

A local of Plano, Texas, and 2019 graduate of Spelman Faculty’s theater and efficiency program, Ingram has lengthy been a fan of Summer season’s music. For every of the actresses, although, Summer season: The Donna Summer season Musical was an introduction to the girl behind the sound.

Donna Summer
Jessenia Ingram, who performs “Duckling Donna,” is a longtime fan of Summer season’s music. (Photograph by Casey Gardner Ford)

“She put her coronary heart, soul, and the multitudes of herself into her music, and that’s what we proceed to really feel to today,” Ingram stated.

Born in Boston as LaDonna Adrian Gaines on New Yr’s Eve 1948, Donna Summer season was a self-proclaimed church woman who sang within the choir and located inspiration within the haunting voice of gospel nice Mahalia Jackson. It was at church that this little woman confirmed the congregation her huge voice and realized her future.

“She stated that God instructed her at a younger age she can be well-known,” Ingram stated. “She had a dream in her coronary heart, and he or she went after it.”

Years earlier than her disco fame, Summer season made a life in Germany along with her function within the musical Hair. There, she additionally recorded on the famend Musicland Studios in Munich, carried out in different theater productions, met her first husband Helmuth Sommer —  from whom her final stage identify was derived — and have become a mom. 

In 1975, her easy concept, “Like to Love You Child,” grew to become her breakout hit, launching her profession stateside by Casablanca Data. 

Within the years following, Summer season dazzled levels in sequined, sheer and horny outfits, gyrating dance strikes and crisp but sultry vocals that opened the door for singers to be erotic and edgy of their lyrics and supply. Her pen spawned extra chart toppers throughout the late Nineteen Seventies, together with “Final Dance,” “Scorching Stuff,” “Unhealthy Women,” “No Extra Tears (Sufficient is Sufficient)” with Barbra Streisand and a canopy of the ballad, “MacArthur Park.” 

Mired by controversy — her sensual moaning on “Like to Love You Child” shocked some listeners and triggered some radio stations to ban the music — Summer season apprehensive that her expertise can be overshadowed by her intercourse attraction. 

“There’s a tunnel imaginative and prescient concept of who she was,” stated Ameia, a D.C. native whose stage and display screen profession spans 30 years. “She was seen as a intercourse image, however she was very religious. God was essential in her life.”

Donna Summer
Marliss Ameia, who performs “Diva Donna,” has a stage and display screen profession spanning 30 years. (Photograph by Casey Gardner Ford)

Whereas Summer season peaked throughout the disco period, she continued to make R&B, dance and pop hits effectively into the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s, reminiscent of “She Works Arduous for the Cash.” 

Alongside her risqué tunes, revealing trend and understanding of the enterprise, “She Works Arduous for the Cash,” was one other reflection of her legacy as a proponent of girls’s liberation. It demanded respect for girls, because the video depicted the stress of girls. On the time, in fact, girls have been rising within the labor pressure, newly transferring as much as govt positions and gaining monetary independence from males — whereas balancing work with motherhood or different life obligations, usually with little thanks, glamour or assist. The video additionally gave extra publicity to girls’s work experiences reminiscent of sexual harassment.

The three Donnas stated the musical has taught them extra about what Summer season meant to girls in leisure and ladies in every single place.

“She pioneered a voice for girls within the music business by writing her personal songs and taking cost of her profession on the enterprise facet in addition to the inventive facet,” stated Gaston, a local of Indianapolis. “I imagine she set the tone for girls within the business to be current and agency.”

Patdro Harris
Choreographer and director Patdro Harris

Summer season is a jukebox musical but additionally a historical past lesson, Ameia stated. Based mostly on a guide by rising heartthrob Colman Domingo, Robert Cray and Des McAnuff, the musical debuted in 2017 on the La Jolla PlayHouse in San Diego earlier than touchdown on Broadway.

The present manufacturing is directed and choreographed by Patdro Harris, who choreographed the Tony Award-winning Broadway play A Raisin within the Solar, in addition to the movie. He has additionally directed at varied theaters, together with True Colours right here in Atlanta and the Tribeca Performing Arts Middle in New York.

“This forged and artistic crew are so dope! The ensemble provides a lot to the world that we’re creating collectively,” Ingram stated. “All of that is doable due to our fearless chief, Patdro. He’s so dynamic and tapped into his creativity and permits us to do the identical.”

The three Donnas stated they’re every rising as artists from having the ability to bounce off of one another. Their appreciation for Summer season’s music makes the expertise much more particular.

“Her music makes you wish to love, transfer freely and revel in life’s highs and lows,” Ingram stated. “Count on to jam out to Donna’s hit music and in addition be handled to the story behind the star.”


Angela Oliver is a proud native of previous Atlanta who grew up within the West Finish. A journalism and Black research grad, day by day information survivor and member of Delta Sigma Theta, she works within the grassroots nonprofit world whereas daydreaming about seeing her scripts come alive on the large display screen. 

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