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    Broadway SF’s Summer: The Donna Summer Musical Has Mega-Watt Dream List of Musical Hits

    By Mark Notlaw–

    “Toot toot, hey, beep beep!”

    Say those words, and you’ll immediately feel the beat, the spirit, the heat of the legendary Donna Summer. Her songs smashed every record. Her story shattered every barrier. Now, the queen arrives direct from Broadway to the Golden Gate Theatre for four weeks of performances December 3–29.

    She was a girl from Boston with a voice from heaven, who shot through the stars from gospel choir to dance floor diva. But what the world didn’t know was how Donna Summer risked it all to break through every barrier, becoming the icon of an era and the inspiration for every music diva who followed. From Janet Jackson to Beyoncé, they all began with Donna.

    Three actresses—Dan’Yelle Williamson, Alex Hairston, and Olivia Elease Hardy—play the role of musical icon Donna Summer at different points in her life as “Diva Donna,” “Disco Donna,” and “Duckling Donna,” while an inexhaustible ensemble of almost entirely women tear up the stage.

    Featuring choreography from Tony Award winner Sergio Trujillo (Ain’t Too Proud), who won a Chita Rivera Award for Outstanding Choreography in a Broadway Show for Summer, and directed by Des McAnuff, the Tony Award-winning director of Jersey Boys and The Who’s Tommy, Summer takes us through her tumultuous life and tempestuous loves. Including a mega-watt dream list of musical hits—“Bad Girls,” “MacArthur Park,” “She Works Hard for the Money,” “Love, To Love You Baby,” “I Feel Love,” “Last Dance,” and more—Summer makes Winter the hottest season of all.

    Now is the time to brush up on your Summer trivia:

    • “She Works Hard for the Money” was the first video by a black woman to be played in heavy rotation on MTV.
    • In 1980, the Grammys gave awards in Rock categories for the first time. “Hot Stuff” won Summer the award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, making her the first woman to win a Grammy in the Rock field.
    • At the start of Summer’s career, her singles were never quite as popular in Germany, where she lived, as they were in other European countries. She used to joke that she could board a train in Munich as a regular person, but by the time she got to Holland, she was a star.
    • In 1998, almost 20 years after winning the first Grammy for Female Rock Vocal Performance, Summer also won the first Grammy for Best Dance Recording. The winning song, “Carry On,” is another collaboration with her famed producer Giorgio Moroder.

    The Grammys

    She didn’t display them in her home, but Summer still received plenty of industry awards. She was nominated for 18 Grammy Awards and won five. Impressively, these Grammys were awarded in four different genres: Rock, Dance, R&B, and Inspirational.

    The American Music Awards

    Summer won three AMAs in 1980, for Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist, Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist, and Favorite Pop/Rock Single for “Bad Girls.” In her career, she won six AMAs out of 12 nominations.

    The Walk of Fame

    In 1992, Donna was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

    The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

    Summer passed away on May 17, 2012, and in 2013, she was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, on her fifth nomination. Her induction ceremony featured appearances by Kelly Rowland, Jennifer Hudson, and Summer’s family: Bruce, Mimi, Brooklyn, and Amanda.

    The Library of Congress

    In 2012, the Library of Congress added “I Feel Love” to the National Recording Registry, signaling its position as an historically important work of art.

    From Diva to Diva

    Upon her death, a vast number of artists paid tribute to Summer, including Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton, and Barbra Streisand. Beyoncé has spoken publicly about how much her own music has been inspired by Summer’s example, while musicians like Madonna, Rihanna, and Janet Jackson still carry on her legacy of creating unapologetically powerful music by and about women.

    Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
    December 3–29
    Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street (at Market)
    Tickets at

    Mark Notlaw is a Bay Area-based theatre buff, critic, and journalist.

    Published on November 28, 2019