By Janice Malone

SUMMER: The Donna Summer Musical, a show-stopping production that celebrates the Queen of Disco, has made its Music City debut at Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Jackson Hall, now through March 27, 2022. “Vogue” (magazine) calls SUMMER: The Donna Summer Musical “a vibrant and sparkling homage to the queen of disco.”

Donna Summer’s Connections to Nashville

Although Donna Summer was born in Boston, Massachusetts, she spent her later years in Nashville. Below are some of her connections to Music City.

· Summer wrote the song “Starting Over Again” with her husband Bruce Sudano. In 1980, it became a No.1 hit on the country charts for Dolly Parton. Reba McEntire later recorded her own version of the song in 1995, and it was also a country hit.

· Summer bought a home in the Nashville area in 1995 and later served on the board of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

· Summer’s funeral was held at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, and she was buried in Harpeth Hills Memory Gardens Cemetery.

Singer/actress Brittny Smith (Diva Donna/Mary Gaines) is one of the cast members who stars as one of the “Donna” characters. The multi-talented Ms. Smith is a native of Houston, TX, and holds a B.A. in radio, TV, film, and a Masters in Education. Her professional career spans from TV & film (BET, Kraft, “Stomp the Yard 2”), to record label recording contracts (Musicworld Ent/Matthew Knowles), musical theater (The Color Purple, Chicago, The Marvelous Wonderettes), and national/international touring (Step Afrika, Dreamgirls Asia Tour).

Here, Brittny chats about performing in such a fabulous musical production.

TRIBUNE: So, what has it been like playing one of the roles of the great Ms. Donna Summer?

BRITTNY: There’s actually more than one actress that plays the role of “Donna” throughout the various stages in her life. I play two characters ‘Diva Donna and Mary Gaines.’ Like the icon, she’s already lived and learned and achieved, and all of that good stuff. She’s telling her life story through the lens of her younger self. I tell the story in the first person throughout the show. I’m also singing and dancing, of course. Audiences will see the youngest Donna and will see Donna Summer’s original family foundation. So, you’ll see her at home with her parents and how she started in the AME Church. And then we have ‘Disco Donna,’ and that’s kind of right there in the middle when she got a record deal and composed a lot of those hit songs that we know and love. There are scenes where the three of us actresses are on stage together, doing certain songs like MacArthur Park and Last Dance. And then it all kind of comes full circle back around when she becomes a wife and a mother.

TRIBUNE: The Donna Summer Musical is now in Nashville. Have you performed for a Nashville audience before, or will this be your first time?

BRITTNY: I have performed for a Nashville audience before. About 90% of my professional career has actually been performing with national tours. I’ve done a lot of touring, and I was with a company called Step Africa, which is one of the top ten black dance companies in the country. I toured with them that’s how I got to Washington, D.C. So yes, I’ve performed in Nashville and Knoxville. We performed in both cities, and also did a lot of workshops and master classes. But it’s been a few years, so I’m really excited to be performing in Nashville again.”

TRIBUNE: Lastly, did you or any of the cast members get the chance to talk to or meet any of Ms. Donna’s family members?

BRITTNY: We haven’t that I know of. But part of the show’s creative team has gotten a chance to talk to and collaborate with Bruce (Sudano Donna’s husband), especially the crew who worked with the original Broadway show. They’ve definitely had some consultation talks with Bruce. I’ve actually talked to some interesting friends of hers and people that directly knew her. But I would love to meet her daughters for sure.

TRIBUNE: Do you have a favorite Donna Summer song, either in this show or just a favorite Donna Summer song?

BRITTNY: “It’s funny because that changes from week to week. The show features over 20 of her hits — the ones that people know and love plus, the ones that were a little lesser known that have grown on me now. So, I used to say Bad Girls was my favorite song. This was kind of before we actually started touring. I just kind of loved the cadence of the song. I love the beat of it. And then it kind of changed to me liking the Last Dance song, which is of course such a legendary song. That song is an audience favorite in almost every city we’ve visited. That seems to be the song that gets the biggest rousing response and applause from the audience. So, for now, I’m going to say Last Dance is my favorite song, but that may change next week.” (LoL