Between finishing up an online calculus class and playing a young Donna Summer, heaven knows Olivia Elease Hardy is working hard and learning about life on the road. That’s because Hardy, a rising senior at the University of Michigan, is playing Duckling Donna in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.
“Living out of a suitcase is really weird at times,” says Hardy. “But it’s been really cool too, you know, to go to all of these places that I’ve never been before and explore these really awesome cities.”
Hardy, who grew up in New Jersey, is taking time off from her studies to make her professional debut in the show. She says working with two Broadway veterans, Dan’yelle Williamson (Memphis, Rocky) and Alex Hairston (Beautiful, Motown), who play Diva Donna and Disco Donna respectively, is an incomparable opportunity.
“Finding your own space and taking your own time to give yourself a break, if you need a break, or just to take care of yourself and be true to yourself while you’re on tour, that’s pretty much what I’ve learned from them,” she says. “They’re absolutely wonderful.”
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo has added a lot more choreography to the touring production than what was on Broadway. And although Hardy doesn’t do a whole lot of dancing in the show, she says the work of the 17 women who make up the ensemble, is truly inspirational.
“The work for them never stops,” she says. “I think that they’re the real stars of the show because they are doing so much and so often doing, three-second wig and costume changes to make their next entrance.”
“And they’re doing it all flawlessly and making look like it’s a piece of cake.”
Hardy wasn’t too familiar with Donna Summer’s songbook or story prior to booking this show. However, in preparing for this role, she discovered that Summer was a true pioneer who did not allow herself to be capitalized upon or put in a box.
“She really didn’t want to be the queen of disco, she was kind of forced into that by her label,” she says. “She had to fight for the rights of her own music from her record label, and that’s interesting to me because we kind of still see that happening today in the music industry, with Nicki Minaj and DJ Khaled and Taylor Swift.”
Hardy says she grew up seeing a countless number of Broadway shows and tours and remembers what it was like to be a kid waiting at the stage door to get her program signed. It’s the shy kids in the audience she can relate to the most, which is a reminder to her to never lose sight of why she wanted to go into this business in the first place.
“It’s a hard industry that’s not fair sometimes, and not very forgiving,” she says. “But it’s the people that do it for the love of the art and not the recognition that makes biggest difference.”
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical runs February 25 through March 1 at the Durham Performing Arts Center. For more information visit https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/summer-the-donna-summer-musical or visit the RDU on Stage Calendar page.