NYTG at the Official Opening of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical on Broadway

New York Theatre Guide attends the official opening night of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical at Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre...

Ariana DeBose, LaChanze & Storm Lever

We love to love a jukebox musical at NYTG and yesterday it was the Queen of Disco's turn to be immortalized, as Summer: The Donna Summer Musical officially opened on the Great White Way. The new bio-musical saw crowds flocking to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre last night, many dressed in appropriate disco-attire in an effort to appear as glitzy and glittering as the show itself, and fans were ready to celebrate the music and the life of a true icon of the music industry.

Jukebox musicals seem to be more popular than ever in today's mainstream theatre scenes. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is still entertaining audiences at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre and Jersey Boys returned to the city not so long ago for an open-ended off-Broadway run, but there are plenty of new shows about and on the horizon within the jukebox genre. Jimmy Buffett's Escape to Margaritaville also opened on Broadway this spring, whilst Go-Go's musical Head Over Heels is set to open this summer and, of course, The Cher Show will land on the Great White Way this fall. Alanis Morrisette's Jagged Little Pill begins performance at the American Repertory Theatre in May and will no doubt be looking to move into town too. The story is much the same on the other side of the pond with the recent opening of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical and re-opening of the Meatloaf-infused Bat Out of Hell in London, with Sinatra: The Musical in development to boot.

So, why are jukebox musicals all the rage at the moment? We spoke to a couple of Summer's leading ladies last night at the official after party to get their thoughts.

"I think people nowadays are drawn to musicals that are somewhat familiar," explains Ariana DeBose, who plays 'Disco Donna' in the new musical. "Donna Summer’s music, Cher’s music, Tina Turner’s music – they all create a certain bit of nostalgia for folks. I think in today’s world, familiarity is a good thing."

"It’s a genius idea for musical theatre," adds Storm Lever, who plays 'Duckling Donna'. "You have songs and a product that you know you already have an audience for. There’s an audience that love this music and wants to celebrate it. Too often in the pop industry, I don’t feel you get to dive into the artist’s stories. So much of it is about presenting an image. What theatre does is we peel it back a little bit. We ask those difficult questions. We still get to hear that music that we love but we can also find out a deeper story behind it."

And that is exactly what book writers Coleman Domingo, Robert Cary and Des McAnuff, who also directs, have attempted with Summer: The Donna Summer Musical which dares to look behind the shiny surfaces of the disco balls to uncover the trials and tribulations of a turbulent life and career.

So many people know and love her music, but what’s incredible about Donna is that she was living in the disco era and she was the Queen of Disco and so, a glitzy, glamorous, beautiful image is what comes to mind, but what this woman was going through behind it all was anything but glitzy or glamorous," Storm Lever tells me. "She was this oversexualized being that didn’t really own her sexuality. She looked at herself as the Ugly Duckling. She was insecure. She went through a lot of those difficult struggles women of today go through and more. This show spans through issues of domestic violence to suicide to molestation – there are so many things that this woman struggled with."

"In Summer, we tell the story of who this woman actually was," Ariana DeBose continues. "She wasn’t just an icon. She was a mother, a daughter, a lover, a sister, a teacher, a student, shepherd and sheep and we’re giving all these different shades in a jam-packed 1 hour and 45 minute show with no intermission. We use her music to tell the story. That’s what’s so interesting about it - and I think her fans find this interesting as well – is that the music she made ended up telling the story of her life. That’s what makes it a good musical."

So, if you like the sounds of Disco and if you like the sounds of the combination of a hard-hitting back story and a back catelogues of well-known hits, why not take a trip back to the 1970s - via the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre - and discover an icon anew?

In the meantime, enjoy our photos from Opening Night...

Ariana DeBose (Disco Donna)

Storm Lever (Duckling Donna)

LaChanze (Diva Donna)

Aaron Krohn (who plays Neil)

Ken Robinson (who plays Andrew Gaines)

Jared Zirilli (who plays Bruce Sudano)

Des McAnuff (Director and Co-writer) & Sergio Trukillo (Choreographer)

Rosie O'Donnell

Jimmy Fallon

Wayne Brady

Jimmy Fallon & Wayne Brady

Danielle Brooks

Jessica Philips

Chazz Palminteri & Family

Gayle King

Leslie Uggams

Sunny Hostin

Thalia & Tommy Mottola

Bruce Sudano, husband of Donna Summer

Summer: The Donna Summer Musical Tickets are available now for performances through to November 18, 2018.

(Photos by Tom Millward)