The forces pushing and pulling for Donna Summer’s show last night at the Kingswood Music Theatre made for a terrific tension.
The push was a complex multiple: Summer, the long reigning queen of disco, comes to town – after a five year absence – with an awesome repertoire of hits that is a veritable history of the genre. That’s enough to get 6,000 people out to the theatre on a perfectly hot night.
Following the slick timing of rising comic Gary Shandling and a long intermission, Summer takes the stage in a tight black sequined “shimmy-shimmy’ gown and explodes into a medley of Sunset People, Bad Girls and Hot Stuff.
Her voice is a beacon, the band is great, the sound is incredible. Yet the crowd is not moved, save for a few hot-to-Trotskys on the lawn.
To the pulls: “Well, the guy sitting next to me isn’t dancing so maybe I’ll embarrass myself if I get up. And you know, in the disco the beat doesn’t stop... maybe she should have some guy with a turntable filling in between songs. And those are kind of old songs…and…”
And welcome to good old anal retentive Toronto, Donna.
But there was a kind of “is-it-disco-or-is-it-Vegas’ conflict happening on stage. Summer tried to play it very modular, tossing the tunes out in mouthfuls. For the most part, the energy on the stage was her responsibility. The band was blocked by white partitions behind which were sets used on the few production numbers like Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, Give Me Your Unconditional Love, a salsa in the Kid Kreole style from her forthcoming album, and State of Independence which, with the help of some powerful backup singers, thundered through the house.
That number gave the shove that won the game for the ‘push’ side. From there, Summer was able to pull off the dreaded born-again number and accompanying proselytizing. But her looks, voice and teary-eyed commitment could move even the most secular among us.
From there came some new jive rap called Woman that sounds better on WBLK and the big Last Dance finale, which finally got most of the crowd off their collective tush.
With a little better pacing in this her first date on the tour, the crowd might have gotten up earlier. But save for the above picky points, Summer and her audience were a winning tug of war team.
So to all you Cro-Magnon crested bows of the Disco Sucks Party, forget it. For many people it is still alive and, just as old Beatle tunes might be yours, songs like Love to Love You Baby was “ their time”. Good times.