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Summer: The Donna Summer Musical review at Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York – ‘ruthlessly efficient’

Ariana DeBose and the company of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York. Photo: Joan Marcus
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“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.

Tina: The Tina Turner Musical review at Aldwych Theatre, London – ‘a belting performance from Adrienne Warren’

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Efficient tribute to Donna Summer that is more of an exercise in songbook karaoke than gritty expose