Review: Aurora’s SUMMER is Hot Stuff!!

By Jody Key – Managing Editor

Lawrenceville – March 26, 2023

It was early 1976 when Donna Summer’s first hit, “Love to Love you Baby” made it to #2 on the HOT 100 chart. I was 10 years old, and Disco was in its infancy. Back then the closest thing to a disco for kids under 18 was the skating rink, where we’d roller boogie through the years to all Donna Summer’s hits. Thanks to Aurora Theatre, we can all take a trip back in time with SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL until April 9th. Aurora has done a fantastic job bringing a first-rate, high-energy musical to the Lawrenceville Arts Center stage which has patrons dancing in their seats.

SUMMER chronicles the life a career of Donna Summer, the disco diva whose career spanned 4 decades and includes the hit songs that made her famous. While some might say this is just another biographical jukebox musical, it stands out on its own merit as a unique telling of the life of a musical superstar. The production is presented as a concert of a lifetime, where in between the show-stopping songs is a montage of Donna’s life. The main character is played in 3 parts — Diva Donna (Marliss Ameia), Disco Donna (Desire Gaston), and Duckling Donna (Jessenia Ingram). The story is told by all three versions of Donna, somewhat in chronological order, but with flashbacks to her past as a young girl sprinkled in between. While Diva Donna is the main narrator, Disco and Duckling offer narration as well. There are periods where each one sings their own solo, and others where 2 or all three will sing together–the most poignant example with the song ‘No More Tears (Enough is Enough). Each performer’s voice is beautiful and captures the essence of Summer’s beautiful iconic sound.

While I loved listening and dancing to her music growing up, I wasn’t aware of her life story. This show gives me a new appreciation for her as a woman who broke barriers in her career, struggled with addiction, attempted suicide, and ultimately discovered that she was a child of God loved by her family and adored by her fans. Having performed in school musicals in high school, she left school before graduation to pursue a career in theater in New York City, where she was cast in HAIR as Sheila and performed the role in a Munich production of the show. While in Germany, she co-wrote and performed her first single, ‘Love to Love you Baby’ which led to a career amassing a total of 32 chart singles on the US Billboard Hot 100 in her lifetime, including 14 top ten singles and four number one singles.

The three Donnas in this show are all powerhouse performers with incredible range and impeccable stage presence. Marliss Ameia as Diva Donna opens the show, interacting with the audience and treating everyone as a dear friend. She is larger than life with a voice like velvet, and we are blessed to have her talents here in the Atlanta area. Desire Gaston carries a great deal of the show as Disco Donna in her Aurora Debut. She is a dynamic performer and I hope we will see more of her in the future. Jessenia Ingram as Duckling Donna does an incredible job of bringing the bright-eyed innocence of a young Donna to life. Marliss and Jessenia also pull double-duty as Marliss also plays Donna’s mother, Mary, and Jessenia also plays Donna’s daughter, Mimi.

Not only does this show have 3 dynamic Donnas, it also has an excellent ensemble comprised of some of the best talent Atlanta has to offer. Director/Choreographer Patdro Harris has done an excellent job of staging numbers that play to the ensemble member’s individual strengths. There’s quite a bit happening on stage from one scene to the next. Several of the ensemble members play multiple parts and there are numerous costume changes which all happen between seamless transitions. The ensemble’s vocals under the music direction of Ann Carol Pence add a good measure of depth to the performances. While the entire ensemble was exceptional, Key Noteworthy ensemble performances include Luke Badera, Michael A. Blackmon, Cole Ferguson, Taloria Merricks, Jordan Patrick, and Wesley Tunison.

So if you’d like to be transported back in time, break out your best disco garb and get your tickets to SUMMER at Aurora Theater before it sells out. Tickets can be purchased online at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s