“This isn’t just my show…this is your show!” Donna Summer exclaimed during “MacArthur Park,” the opening song of her August 6, 1983 concert at Costa Mesa, California’s Pacific Amphitheatre. Now, that memorable concert dubbed A Hot Summer Night truly can be yours, as Driven by the Music and Crimson Productions have debuted it on CD and DVD as well as on a separate vinyl release.
A Hot Summer Night, part of Summer’s Hard for the Money tour, was filmed in the wake of the She Works Hard for the Money album release. The LP had arrived in stores a couple of months earlier, in June, but the superstar was already on the second leg of her successful tour. The venue was the then-recently opened Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, California, holding approximately 18,000 cheering fans. The roughly 90-minute concert (pared down to 77 minutes for its initial HBO broadcast and roughly 73 minutes on this CD/DVD combo) was staged as a theatrical spectacular with choreography by Broadway and West End luminary Arlene Phillips. Her lithe, slinky dancers were the first performers onstage, and the corps de ballet were periodically utilized throughout the first half of the show. In the manner of a musical, the band wasn’t visible for that half which featured various set pieces and costumes tailored to the songs; the second set (from “Woman” on) was more in the manner of a traditional concert. Though the production design was low-tech and sparse compared to today’s tour spectaculars, the singer more than made up for it with her incandescent presence.
Summer made clear that this wasn’t a mere nostalgia show as she followed “MacArthur Park” with a one-two punch of her recent singles, the bright reggae number “Unconditional Love” and urgently pulsating “Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger).” Continuing the show’s emphasis on then-current material, she continued with the Flashdance soundtrack entry “Romeo” (recorded for her originally-scuttled I’m a Rainbow album, her final album with producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte). As they had on the studio version, the members of British group Musical Youth joined Donna for “Unconditional Love.” Summer’s immense versatility shone through as she happily skipped from genre to genre without missing a beat.
Donna explicitly revisited her theatrical roots in such musicals as Hair and Godspell by ascending a balcony for her performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita anthem “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” which she had also recorded for I’m a Rainbow. Standing still to address her descamisados, she nonetheless had no trouble commanding the audience’s attention as she briefly but boldly embodied the role of Eva Peron. A Hot Summer Night invited the audience on a tour of Summer’s life from those halcyon days onstage in Germany through her disco classics and even her journey of faith. “Forgive Me,” a beautiful expression of the latter, would be included on Donna’s 1984 album Cats Without Claws but receives a tender, expressive performance here.
A Hot Summer Night was a family affair; Summer’s sisters Dara and Mary Ellen Bernard sang background vocals and took center stage with her on “Woman” as part of an extended bit which briefly found the trio making à la The Supremes. “Woman,” written by Summer, her husband Bruce Sudano, Jay Graydon, and Michael Omartian, was another cut from She Works Hard for the Money. It found the recently born-again artist celebrating womanhood while exhorting, “God he made the woman/God he made the man/Knew just what he wanted in his master plan/Want your man to love you with all his heart and soul/Let him be who he is/Let him take control.” If audiences found it hard to square such a sentiment with Summer’s disco-era persona, it was likely even harder for Donna herself. She took tentative steps to embrace the whole of her musical past, and included truncated versions of four classics (“Dim All the Lights,” “Sunset People,” “Bad Girls,” and “Hot Stuff”) from 1979’s chart-topping rock-disco smash Bad Girls in a brisk medley. (Many of Summer’s 1970s favorites were entirely absent, however, including “Love to Love You Baby,” “I Feel Love,” “I Remember Yesterday,” and “Heaven Knows.”)
Arlene Phillips’ dancers returned for a post-“Last Dance” encore of “She Works Hard for the Money,” along with the theatrical scenery and costuming of the concert’s first set. Phillips adapted her choreography for the original music video for the tour’s stages as Donna once again donned her waitress’ uniform in the onstage diner. Summer closed out the evening with her cover of Jon Anderson and Vangelis’ “State of Independence,” a bouncy yet spiritual celebration. She was joined for the uplifting finale by a chorus of family members including her daughter Mimi who sang the first verse.
While the audio CD as mastered by Phil Kinrade is enjoyable on its own merits, the DVD is the more essential component of this package. The concert film directed by Brian Grant shows the down-to-earth Summer completely in control of both her audience and her art. Fans who remember A Hot Summer Night from its earlier presentations on television, VHS, and laserdisc, though, will notice some key edits here. Stage patter and/or introductions have been cut without explanation from “Forgive Me,” the Bad Girls medley, and “On the Radio.” The video has been sourced from analog tape masters and presented on a standard-definition NTSC Region 0 DVD (viewable on all DVD players worldwide); the booklet has a photo of these tapes indicating the broadcast’s original 76-minute length. It’s also unfortunate that “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” filmed as part of the original concert but not included on the subsequent broadcast, hasn’t been located and reinstated here.
A Hot Summer Night is packaged in the same hardcover book format as last year’s 30th anniversary reissue of Donna’s Another Place and Time. As with that set, Christian John Wikane has taken a deep dive into the history of the project with his new, comprehensive essay drawing on fresh interviews with key players such as Arlene Phillips, Brian Grant, and producer Len Epand of PolyGram’s video division. The 24-page booklet also has credits and numerous stills from the concert. In addition to the CD/DVD edition, the audio has been released on a 2-LP vinyl set.
Until the 1999 release of VH1 Live & More Encore!, A Hot Summer Night was the only widely available, long-form video of Donna Summer in concert. All these years later, it remains a sizzling and significant portrait of the artist at a particular moment in time, coming to terms with her own legacy and sharing her positive spirit through music.
Donna Summer’s A Hot Summer Night is available now on CD/DVD and vinyl from Driven by the Music and Crimson Productions at the following links!