Review: Summer Sizzles at Hollywood Pantages

Dan'yelle Williamson (Diva Donna), Alex Hairston (Disco Donna), and Olivia Elease Hardy (Duckling Donna) and the company of Summer. Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

Disco days are back now that the “Queen of Disco,” Donna Summer lives again under the expert direction of two-time Tony Award-winning director, Des McAnuff (Doctor Zhivago, Jesus Christ Superstar) in this electrifying retelling of her life story at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Considering her legacy and repertoire, nobody is more deserving of a biographical musical extravaganza than Summer.

Alex Hairston and the Company of Summer. Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

Depicting three stages of Summer’s life, Olivia Elease Hardy (on her first national tour) plays the young, Duckling Donna; Alex Hairston (West Side Story, Motown), Disco Donna; and Dan’yelle Williamson (Sister Act, Mamma Mia), Diva Donna — all three doing justice to the legend, and though distinct in their vocal styles, equally mesmerizing. We are told from the beginning that this is going to be one of the greatest concerts, and so it is. The hits are unleashed in all their infectious disco might — On the Radio, Bad Girls, Hot Stuff — and there are also some tender surprises, mainly an elegiac ballad version of Dim All The Lights, and the tender, On My Honor.

Dan’yelle Williamson and the Company of Summer. Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

Summer’s singing career began in her church choir in Boston, Massachusetts, where she was singled out to perform solos in front of the congregation. But lurking beneath this special recognition is also a story of sexual abuse perpetrated by her pastor. We are taken on a journey as she leaves the home of strict, traditional parents and joins the European company of the musical HAIR in Germany where she meets her first husband, gives birth to her daughter, Mimi, and meets the legendary composer-producer, Giorgio Moroder who will make her a star and change music forever.

While celebrating her success, the show also frames her rise through the lens of the many adversities she suffered: Sexual abuse, domestic violence, mismanagement, drug addiction, a suicide attempt, and the lung cancer that finally took her life in 2012. We are left with little doubt that while Summer certainly achieved huge worldwide success, touching millions of lives with her sensual and velvety voice and signature sound, she  worked hard for the money.

One of the highlights of the evening is Heaven Knows in which future husband, Bruce Sudano played by Steven Grant Douglas (Cabaret, Ghost The Musical) duets with Donna during a late night “rehearsal” of her iconic song. The chemistry between them is palpable and Douglas injects a healthy dose of male testosterone in a production dominated by female actors.

— Victor Riobo
Summer is playing at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, through Nov. 24th. Get tickets HERE.