Donna Summer came from gospel, dominated disco and achieved pop diva status. During her iconic career, Summer has done incredible things with her voice – no one has ever cooed, whispered and sighed like she did in “Love to Love You Baby.”
“She belted, she got a little bit of a rasp in the songs sometimes, a little grumble,” actor and singer Brittny Smith told the Herald. “But she was also very sexy and, gosh, I could go on. She had so much reach as an artist.
Smith and her castmates explore every inch of that range in “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical,” which finally premieres in Boston at the Emerson Colonial Theater, Tuesday through March 6.
Playing “Diva Donna,” Smith guides audiences through Summer’s epic story and impressive back catalog. But she’s just one of the Donnas — the jukebox musical uses three actors to play “Diva Donna,” “Disco Donna” and “Duckling Donna” and takes the show from the singer’s humble beginnings in Boston through abusive relationships and battles from industry to international stardom.
Summer left home at 18 to sing full time. She traveled to New York and Germany and around the world to pursue her dream through the disco era and into the new millennium (Summer died in 2012 and was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013). But she grew up in Mission Hill and Bostonians consider her a local icon.
“Yeah, she left early, but no matter when she left, there’s no question she’s a Boston girl,” Smith said. “For us, we feel responsible to bring justice to the hometown girl. We want to tell his story, embody his thoughts and feelings in writing the show, we want to sing well, move well, and we want people to feel nostalgic.
“We want Boston to be proud of us and even prouder of Donna,” she added.
The touring production celebrates summer in a sprint. In just 100 minutes, the three Donnas and supporting cast performed 23 songs, including the greatest hits: “Bad Girls”, “Hot Stuff”, “MacArthur Park”, “I Feel Love”.
“When you find joy in the work and joy in the art, you find those moments to breathe in the sprint,” Smith said. “You forget you’re rushing into the show, especially when the audience reacts.”
And those who sit (or those who simply have to get up and dance) tend to respond with electric enthusiasm.
“When audience members hear the opening notes of their favorite songs, they clap and rise,” Smith said. “It happens most with ‘Last Dance’, which is the finale for obvious reasons. Hit the first note of ‘Last Dance’ and the audience immediately stands up and shouts, ‘We love you Donna’.”
“And we all know she’s not really there, but also, she is,” Smith added.
For tickets and details, go to boston.broadway.com.