Broadway Review: “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical”

Joseph Verlezza

  • New York Theatre Critic

“Call the DJ, call the station/Dancing all across the nation/Here for every generation/Now you know your queen is back.” – “The Queen Is Back” by Donna Summer

The fact is that she never really left, and the proof is that her music is alive on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre in the new jukebox bio-musical “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.” To describe it as an exceptional theatrical accomplishment would be a bit of a stretch; however, it can be defined as a relatively respectable attempt to pay tribute to the music of the late queen of disco.

This is achieved by the consummate performances of Storm Lever (Duckling Donna), Ariana DeBose (Disco Donna), and LaChanze (Diva Donna) who play the super star at three different stages of her life and career. Singularly or together, they fuse their vocal virtuosity, conjure up the spirit and presence of the legendary songstress, and lionize her music that defined an era – which did and will continue to inspire people to get up and boogie all night, until that eminent “Last Dance.” That is the reason, and probably the only reason, to spend one hundred intermission-less minutes enjoying the reincarnation of twenty-three of this idol’s recordings and leaving the theater having relived the past or generating memories for the future.

  Photo: Ariana DeBose as “Disco Donna” and Company in “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.” Credit: Joan Marcus.

Photo: Ariana DeBose as “Disco Donna” and Company in “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.” Credit: Joan Marcus.

Although Des McAnuff has put together a slick production, the streamlined biography that is provided by the inept book compiled by him, Coleman Domingo and Robert Cary, reduces the proceedings to the level of an extravagant Las Vegas lounge act. There is a feeble attempt to create a gender bending cast that only diminishes the integrity of the work and adds to the confusion of the already garbled script. The choreography by Sergio Trujillo is entertaining but pedestrian and often repetitious.

The song list is wonderful with some less familiar delights, but it is the rapture of those disco warhorses that are unmistakably crowd pleasing. The revelation of the breakout “Love to Love You Baby” is beguiling, along with the lamenting “MacArthur Park” and the rousing “She Works Hard for the Money.” The musical numbers do not invest in furthering the nonexistent plotline or augmenting character development, but merely stand alone, which seems to be quite enough. Then comes the finale, complete with pulsating strobes, gigantic disco balls reflecting a genre throughout the theater and the electrifying beats of “Hot Stuff” and the everlasting “Last Dance.” Surely, if you remember nothing else from this mediocre musical, you will go out dancing!                              

 

SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL

The cast of “Summer” features Ariana DeBose, Aaron Krohn, LaChanze, Storm Lever, Ken Robinson, and Jared Zirilli. The ensemble is comprised of Angelica Beliard, Mackenzie Bell, Kaleigh Cronin, Kimberly Dodson, Anissa Felix, Drew Wildman Foster, Kendal Hartse, Afra Hines, Jenny Laroche, Wonu Ogunfowora, Rebecca Riker, Christina Acosta Robinson, Jessica Rush, and Harris M. Turner. Swings include Aurelia Michael, Jody Reynard, and Kim Steele.

“Summer” features a book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary and Des McAnuff, with songs by Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Jabara and others and is directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, with music supervised by Ron Melrose and scenic design by Robert Brill, costumes by Paul Tazewell, lighting by Howell Binkley, sound by Gareth Owen and projections by Sean Nieuwenhuis. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Tickets are available through www.Ticketmaster.com,  online or by phone at 877-250-2929, or in person at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre box office (205 West 46th Street). Box office hours are Monday through Saturday from 10:00am to 8:00pm. For further information about “Summer,” including performance schedule and cast biographies, visit http://thedonnasummermusical.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without an intermission.