Thunder role

Posted on 15 Jul 2016 at 6:00am

Out actor Eric LaJuan Summers, a scene-stealing boy among ‘Dreamgirls’

Eric-LaJuan-Summers,-Kristen-Bond---Photo-by-Karen-Almond2
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Eric LaJuan Summers is tearing it up, stealing scenes left and right as the James Brown-ish soul singer James “Thunder” Early in the Dallas Theater Center’s production of Dreamgirls. But despite all the attention, he’s always looking for the next great opportunity. Maybe… Deena Jones?

He kids, he kids… but kinda not.

When Summers started his career as an actor, he imagined himself as the staid, reliable, even dull leading-man type. The first time he auditioned for Dreamgirls, he was shooting for C.C. White, the studious songwriter.

“I’ve always been the serious one — the cute younger brother with a heart of gold,” he says of his self-image. But others saw something else.

“You should try out for Thunder Early,” the casting director suggested. That’s not really his persona, Summers countered. The casting director just shook her head.

“When you learn what your real type is, you’ll never stop working,” she counseled.

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 2.55.38 PMTurns out she was right. Summers’ flamboyant turn Thunder Early gives the production a lot of its humor and sexual energy. And it’s just the latest role that shows his facility with over-the-top performances. Prior to Dreamgirls, Summers was with the Broadway production of Motown The Musical, portraying such irrepressible performers as Rick James, Jackie Wilson and Marlon Jackson. Before that, he auditioned for the role of Little Richard in the feature film Get On Up, but was deemed too old to play the teenaged version of the R&B legend (though his singing voice is in the film).

So tackling Thunder Early wasn’t much of a stretch. It’s the kind of over-the-top soul singer he’s become accustomed to. And he has a lot of inspirations to draw from.

“People always say the character is based on James Brown, but I add in some Little Richard, some Marlon, some Jackie,” Summers says. And audiences go wild, especially when the character goes off-book and drops trou during his Vegas number. Hey, a little exhibitionism never hurt anyone.

“Eric is a hoot and a great flirt,” says Joel Ferrell, his director for Dreamgirls. Told this, Summers feigns mock surprise.

“My mother saw the show and after she said, ‘So you don’t act anymore — you just show up and be yourself?’” he says. “I said, “How dare you! [Thunder] is a womanizer — I’m not!’ ‘That’s the only thing,’ she said.”

All of which leads to his desire to try something new and different. He thinks he could get the Celine-esque hand choreography of Deena Jones down. Or really anything that shows the chops he has.

“One of my favorite things about my first Broadway show [Aida] was, I had a death scene, I had a sword fight …  I want to do something serious. On a show like Will and Grace, I’m always Jack and Karen; I think it’s time to be the Will.”

That might be Summers’ goal, but audiences know what they like. And a little Thunder never hurt anybody.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 15, 2016.

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