By Rich Lopez | Staff writer
Let’s just get this out of the way: Donna Summer and the gays have some history that is both good and bad. The good is certainly her plethora of hits that made the dancefloor the place to be. The bad was her alleged anti-gay remarks about AIDS and the gay community. But her impact on the community still resonates through her music which takes the spotlight in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical that opens Tuesday.
For Francisco Risso, the show’s Dance Captain, he sees her story come to life almost every night as part of his first national tour. He also works to keep the show on track whether from backstage each night to bringing in new dancers to step in. Talk about working hard for the money.
Before opening night, the out Risso talked about his time with the show and how the audiences may walk away with a bit more knowledge and appreciation about the disco diva’s story beyond the music and nostalgia.
Dallas Voice: Congratulations on this first tour. Could you please explain what your role as Dance Captain means?
Risso: I watch the show from backstage and take notes just to make sure everyone knows what they are doing and keep the show looking clean. I’m also in charge of new people in the show and basically make sure the ship keeps running. We are actually putting a new girl in the show today. And I’ll train her to do all the dances from beginning to end. It’s a pretty busy process.
DV: In your words, do you mind describing the story of Summer?
Risso: This just tells the story of her from the beginning of her childhood through her career and then later in life. Three different actors portray her and it’s really 120 minutes of Donna’s life. We get to relive the music and learn about this Black woman’s story into becoming a star.
DV: She certainly helped pave a way for other singers.
Risso: Without her we may not have Beyonce or Rihanna. She really was a trailblazer not just for women but certainly Black women and artists in music.
DV: The height of her music was gosh, 40-plus years ago now. You’re 32. Perhaps much of the cast may not have been born in that time. Did you notice any kind of generational gap in connecting to the material?
Risso: I feel that at some point, everyone has heard her music. As dancers, we’ve definitely heard it or done a competition to her music. Sure it’s been decades but I think her music has transcended beyond her time.
DV: Her music is not uncommon in gay bars still – even if it is Trash Disco night.
Risso: Yeah and drag queens always perform her stuff. You may not know Donna Summer, but you know her music. I’ve danced a lot for drag queens to her music personally.
DV: So Donna Summer has a complicated history with the gay community. She allegedly made antigay remarks. Later she denounced those rumors with letters to AIDS and queer organizations as well as drop the album I’m a Rainbow which was somewhat considered her reach out to the community and perhaps apology. Being out yourself, has any of that come up while doing the show?
Risso: I can’t say that it really comes up in talking about the show, but the show does touch on it. I think the way they address it is in a nice way.
DV: OK, being a musical about disco in the Winspear, it might be hard to stay seated but we don’t wanna be those guys.
Risso: We want people to react and get up and dance. Everyone’s cheering at the show because the music just lends itself to that vibe. It really is an exciting time to relive that music and let it all out. It’s like going to a gay bar. We’re having a party.