Summer: The Donna Summer Musical review at Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York – ‘ruthlessly efficient’
“I want the next couple of hours to be a show everyone remembers forever!”, declares one of the three actresses who portrays Donna Summer at the top of this bio-tribute show to the late “Queen of Disco”, as this one-time blues and soul singer became styled.
Staged with ruthless efficiency by director Des McAnuff, who previously led one of Broadway’s best-ever bio-musicals Jersey Boys to worldwide success, it follows that show’s template (one also adopted by Beautiful, the Carole King musical) of folding the well-known hits into the story of Summer’s life.
It acknowledges, but passes over, career missteps as the fan boycott that followed alleged anti-gay remarks around Aids. It understands that what the audience has turned up to hear are the chart hits – she had a dozen top 10 singles between 1976 and 1982, more than any other act during this period – including, of course, such breathily sexualised songs as Love to Love You Baby, White Boys and Hot Stuff.
There are also her cover hits that included a disco version of Jimmy Webb’s MacArthur’s Park (though curiously her version of Barry Manilow’s Could It Be Magic is missing). Still, with a song stack of over 20 numbers, we’re not short-changed.
The tracks are largely distributed between three ages of Summer: Disco Donna (Ariane DeBose), Diva Donna (LaChanze) and Duckling Donna (Storm Lever), which is a clever way of sharing the load. The staging is far more glossy than gritty, though, with furiously busy projections by Sean Nieuwenhuis setting the ever-changing scene. But I’m not sure this amiable show – more slick Las Vegas revue than a fully-functioning musical – will be remembered next week, let alone forever.
We need your help…
When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.
The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.
We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.
Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.