Hot stuff! ‘The Donna Summer Musical’ on stage at the Straz Center • St Pete Catalyst


As the star of the song, Donna Summer was so tall that it takes three people to play her on stage.

Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, but Summer: Donna’s Summer Musical, the bio-musical opening tonight as part of the Straz Center’s Broadway series, gives us the Donna trilogy, right away.

“Since we are following her life, it would be difficult to keep track of all the stages if there was only one person, playing her as a child, then her in her prime, then her as a mother and veteran of the music industry, “says singer, dancer and actress Charis Michelle Gullage.” So we split her into three people. “

Gullage plays Disco Donna; she performs several of Summer’s most famous hits – “Hot Stuff”, “Love to Love You” and “Bad Girls”, among others.

“Amahri Edwards-Jones plays Duckling Donna,” says Gullage. “It’s Donna when her name was LaDonna Adrian Gaines, when she was a kid and she discovered her voice and sang in church. Enter his voice.

“Brittny Smith plays Diva Donna. She is the thru-line character. She starts and ends the show, like our narrator. The series looks back on her life and tells us not only about her memories, but also about what she learned from her experiences throughout her life.

Charis michelle gullage

Born and raised in New Orleans, Charis Gullage knew what she wanted – to work in musical theater – from an early age. She spent four grueling years at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (a renowned performing arts high school), then four more at Loyola University, where she received her BA.

Gullage was one of the Victory Belles at the National WWII Museum, traveling the country performing Andrews Sisters and other wartime songs in uniform.

The national tour of Summer is, to use a hackneyed expression, a dream come true.

“There are times when it doesn’t feel real to me,” admits Gullage. “And it’s crazy because we’ve been on this tour for two months now, and there are still times when I’m like ‘Is this really happening?’ Oh, it’s really happening. Not only do I tour, but I play the role of a lifetime.

“And I can bring joy to other people, including kids who may be watching a musical for the first time. It makes me so happy to do that, bring back what people brought to me when I was a teenager, sitting in the audience watching Cats. “

Even though Gullage is a generation or two away from Donna Summer’s heyday, she has found a strong connection to the late diva’s music through her father Tony, who is a professional bass player. “We would sit and listen to music, and most of the time we would bond over the bassline of a song,” Gullage recalls. “Once we listened to ‘Last Dance’ I thought it was the best song on the planet. It wasn’t just the words, and it wasn’t just his voice – obviously, those are amazing parts – it was the bassline.

“Later I found out, reading her book, that all of her songs, according to her, were based on her basslines. From there, she would build everything else. Once you have that you can start building from there.

There is a lot to remember from Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, Gullage believes.

“More than removing how festive her music is and how extravagant everything is from costumes to wigs, you start to recognize how much of a trailblazer she was for women in the music industry today. . Without her there would be no Beyonce, no Janet, no Rhianna. All these people who came after her. Because she paved the way for a lot of women in the music industry. Especially for women of color.

“And with everything that’s been going on in the world over the past few years, it’s something where you can walk in smiling and walk out smiling even bigger. Because you just sat or stood and danced and partied for an hour and a half.

Tickets and information here.


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