On the night of Saturday the 10th at 7:30 pm, The Great Hall hosted the first public performance of the musical A History of Summer. One of the three works included in Summerworks‘ Musical Works in Concert program this year, A History of Summer follows the lives and loves of LGBT vacationers on Fire Island over more than a century. The success of this epic musical as a concert-style performance makes me eager to see a full stage performance.
Fire Island, a long and narrow barrier island on the south coast of Long Island facing the Atlantic, that has been a major destination for visitors from New York City since the mid-19th century. From the 1930s on, it has also hosted a sizable contingent of LGBT visitors from New York who have taken advantage of the island’s distance from New York City to make it a space where they can be open about their likes, loves and lusts. The action of the musical traces the island’s evolution as a place for LGBT freedom, starting in 1932 with the visit of couple Stephan and John and continuing through to the present day. Hurricanes, the Second World War, the development of the gay rights movement, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the push for same-sex marriage–all leave their own imprints on the island and its people.
A History of Summer is a well-constructed musical. The sweeping arc of LGBT history in the past century of North America, from oppression and forced invisibility to openness and the approach of full equality, is perfect for storytelling. Focusing on the evolution of a single community like Fire Island is a good way to make the breadth of this story dramatically manageable, while the story of Fire Island itself as a place that has survived multiple catastrophes only to rebuild successfully each time is equally compelling.
The many different individual stories featured in this musical are well-chosen, compelling and frequently funny. There’s the embattled married couple Beatrice and Raymond, who party in 1938 while a hurricane rages outside, or Danny and his sister Jean who visit Fire Island a decade later, where he lucks into a career in the theatre while she gets to pine over the unattainable men, or Randy in 1964 who learns Mattachine Society while his friend Chad cavorts in the infamous Meatrack. Stephan and John are present throughout, living testimony to the community’s active and evolving history.
Musically and script-wise, A History of Summer is quite solid. With its book and lyrics written by Adam Mathias and the music by Jonathan Monro, A History of Summer has plenty of catchy, witty songs in a variety of different musical genres. Individual performances were also uniformly strong.
In A History of Summer, the story of Fire Island has receieved the frank, smart, and funny show it deserves. I look forward to seeing this musical performed again with the full theatrical production it deserves.
Photograph courtesy of SummerWorks