By William Wolf

SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL  Send This Review to a Friend

If you are after an in-depth look at the life of Donna Summer, you won’t get that in the sketchy book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary and Des McAnuff. But if you just want to hear a reprise of Donna Summer’s hits, you’ll get that big time via the superb voices of the three performers who play the disco star at different stages of her life.

Storm Lever as the youngster Donna makes a strong vocal impression, Ariana DeBose is a knockout as the middle Donna, dubbed Disco Donna, and the fabulous La Chanze has a voice that rocks the theater as the older Donna, who centers the show by reflecting on her life.

McAnuff, also the director, has packaged the show with glitter, carried out with help that includes the explosive-looking set design by Robert Brill and the flashy lighting design by Howell Binkley. At the performance I attended, I noticed many in the audience mouthing the lyrics, and by the end audience fans were clapping and whopping it up in appreciation of the singing and the staging, given additional impact by dancers snappily choreographed by Sergio Trujillo.

The tale told is another matter. The account of Summer’s turbulent life is shallow, with representative scenes dutifully interspersed. (La Chanze also plays Summers’s mother.) There is a maudlin scene in which the under-age Summer is showed with a minister, who in the play clearly has taken sexual advantage of her in an extended relationship. (The play also notes Summer having become religious.)

We get a personal life scene in which she is slapped around. There is also a very lame attempt to get past a period in which she was widely berated for a reported slur on gays during the AIDs epidemic. Perhaps the juke box musical genre isn’t the platform for deep exploration.

In “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” it is the singing that counts, especially for fans looking for a trip down memory lane in a show that includes some 23 staged numbers with songs written by Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Jabara and others. At the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, 205 West 46th Street. Phone: 877-250-2929. Reviewed April 27, 2018.


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