Donna Summer possesses, unequivocally, one of the greatest voices in popular music. Her appearance at Jones Beach on Saturday evening proved that true artists are comfortably adept with a variety of musical styles.
Donna served up a delicious feast of her beloved hits, sprinkling in some fan favorites, and offering intimate stories behind songs that have inspired her over the years. Whether breathing new life into oft-performed standards such as “Smile” and “The Man I Love” or vamping through “Bad Girls” and “Hot Stuff,” Donna held the audience at Jones Beach in the palm of her hand.
Imagine a cool July evening just after sunset, a stage set on the water, white satin draped above a glittering piano secured on a raised platform with a gigantic strobe light floating in the air. Picture Donna standing center stage, long black evening gown slit to her right knee, the breeze dreamily flowing through her cascading locks during “Once Upon at Time.” Her head tilted back, eyes closed when holding the “you” in “I Love You.” The setting was nothing short of magical for a woman who’s been absent from gracing the stage with her remarkable voice for far too long.
She more than made up for that absence on Saturday night.
Herein are some personal highlights from “An Evening with Donna Summer”:
NIGHTS IN WHITE SATIN
The most revelatory number of the evening insofar as Donna has a very personal history with this song dating back to her early days living in Germany. Cloaked in a white pant suit, Donna sang in her lower register, giving the melody a particular dramatic quality that is remarkably stronger than the Moody Blues original.
This is a song that must
be committed to record sooner than later. (I already hear the club mix.)
Because The Wanderer album was my formal introduction to Donna Summer nearly 25 years ago, this song has a very special place in my heart.
I never thought I’d ever hear Donna sing a song from that album; it was such thrill to hear those familiar power chords on Saturday night that I stood up and sang along. (I think I was in the minority though since nearly everyone in the first or second row remained in their seats.
Perhaps telling the story behind “Cold Love” or The Wanderer would have erased the question marks on some faces…)
(YOU MAKE ME FEEL LIKE) A NATURAL WOMAN
Prefacing that classic opening line – “Looking out on the morning rain…” – Donna told an amusing story about how she first became aware of this song. It’s difficult to imagine anyone other than Aretha (or Carole King) performing “Natural Woman,” but Donna sealed it with her distinctive vocal stamp.
The “slow to fast” build that is the trademark of Donna’s hits was craftily applied to “Natural Woman” to great effect. Another cover that would (will?) receive many repeat listens on my stereo….
DIM ALL THE LIGHTS
I hadn’t ever seen Donna perform this song in concert – it’s my absolute
favorite song by Donna and I just have to thank her for including it in the set list!
Though I’ve singled out four songs, each song was performed with verve and vivacity: “MacArthur Park” was spine-tingling, “No More Tears” was a scintillating duet with Mary, the “My Man Medley” was a cocktail of camp and class, “Could It Be Magic” was, indeed, magic.
I’d love to see Donna bring this show to the Beacon Theater or Radio City (or Carnegie Hall) since I know many Manhattan-ites who love the diva but aren’t enthusiastic about the trek on Long Island Rail Road. Perhaps next time around…It is my hope that the success “An Evening with Donna Summer” signals frequent returns to the stage and lays the groundwork for a new album that truly reflects the range of Donna’s unparalleled and ever-expanding talents.
- Christian Wikane, NY