In the mid-to-late 1970s, disco music and dancing were all the rage. Movies like “Saturday Night Fever,” popular nightclubs like New York’s Studio 54 and white-jacketed deejays in glass-walled cubicles helped propel the high-energy, strobe-lit genre to worldwide popularity.
And over it all reigned Donna Summer, the “Queen of Disco.”
The frenetic disco era will briefly come alive this weekend at the AllWays Theatre as critically acclaimed local singer Anais St. John presents “Last Dance: A Tribute to Donna Summer.” Channeling the spirit and the energy of the late five-time Grammy-winning superstar, St. John will belt out such Summer standards as “Last Dance,” “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls,” “On the Radio” and many more.
Presented by Jonathan Mares Productions on the evenings of Aug. 29 and 30, “Last Dance” is the latest in a series of tributes to female singers that Mares has staged at the AllWays since January.
However, unlike the previous shows, this one will not be a typical concert.
“It’s going to really be a big to-do,” Mares said. “There’s going to be go-go dancers, backup singers and a big space in the middle of the floor where people can dance. And there’s going to be a lighted, spinning disco ball overhead. This is going to be a full show.”
St. John is best known as a cabaret-style vocalist and performer.
“This is really different from anything I’ve ever done,” she said. “It’s not a cabaret show. It’s not going to be a historical account of Donna Summer’s life. It’s going to be a high-energy disco dance party; song after song after song. I want people dancing. I don’t want people just sitting there. The point is about the music, which is all about having fun and celebrating life.”
Backing up St. John will be a core of musicians she has performed with many times in the past. They include Mike Esneault on keyboards, Mark Brooks on bass, Don Vappie on guitar and Charlie Kohlmeyer on drums. Backup vocals will be sung by Jayna Morgan Deceurs and Romy Kaye.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun; something that hasn’t been done here before,” St. John said. “Disco has this stigma as being a lesser kind of music, but when we put these musicians together, we’re going to create something that’s really special. What I bring to the table is the energy to make each song my own, and channel Donna Summer who left this amazing legacy and catalog of disco songs. There are so many people who loved and danced to her music.”
Admittedly, St. John’s band members, most of whom are steeped in jazz and other genres, were less than enthusiastic about doing a disco-themed show. However, St. John managed to convince them it would be fun and they wouldn’t have to wear costumes.
“You just wear your black suits and your skinny black ties, and I’ll wear the costumes and get the singers and the dancers to wear the costumes,” she told her musicians. “I’m encouraging the audience to have fun and bust out their disco attire if they want to. I want this to feel like a night at Studio 54.”
St. John also hinted that she might perform other songs from that time that were not sung by Summer but were “in that same spirit.” Most notably, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” which St. John called “the anthem of that era.”
She and Mares both noted that, if the two nights are sellouts, a third performance might be scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 31.
“I just want everybody to come out and have a good time,” St. John said. “I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t want to dance and let their hair down and escape.”
As for Disco Era survivors whose knees may no longer be up to the rigors of nonstop dancing, St. John said there will be seating around the dance floor. But for those who still feel adventurous despite their aches and pains, Ace bandages at the door may be an option, she added with a laugh.
‘Last Dance: A Tribute to Donna Summer’
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 29 and 30
WHERE: The Allways Theatre, 1030 Marigny St. (at St. Claude Ave.), New Orleans
INFO: For reservations call (504) 758-5590 or visit www.brownpapertickets.comevent/766636. Website: theallwayslounge.net