This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

9May/18

SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Ariana DeBose stars as Disco Donna in Summer musical at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (photo by Joan Marcus)

Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
205 West 46th St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 18, $48-$149
thedonnasummermusical.com

While most people can’t wait for summer to finally begin, those inside the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre can’t wait for it to end. No, we’re not talking about the balmy season but Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, the seriously misguided Broadway show about the Queen of Disco. The bombastic mess disjointedly tells the story of Boston-born LaDonna Adrian Gaines, a young church singer who quit high school to become a star, and what a star she became. Changing her name to Donna Summer, she was taken under the wing of Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart (Aaron Krohn) and Italian producer and composer Giorgio Moroder (Kaleigh Cronin) and released a slew of dance-hall hits, from “Love to Love You, Baby,” “Bad Girls,” and “Hot Stuff” to “She Works Hard for the Money,” “Dim All the Lights,” and “Heaven Knows,” among others. The tepid, cliché-ridden book, written by Colman Domingo (Wild with Happy, A Boy and His Soul), Robert Cary (Flashdance, Grease Live!), and Des McAnuff (Doctor Zhivago, Jersey Boys), does touch on some of the more dramatic moments of Summer’s life, including being abused by a priest, stalked by a fan, and treated unfairly as a woman in the record industry, but it overdoes its hero-worshipping theme, literally putting Summer up on a pedestal time and time again.

Summer is portrayed by three actors: Storm Lever (Freaky Friday, The Wringer) as the young Duckling Donna, Ariana DeBose (A Bronx Tale, Hamilton) as Disco Donna, and Tony winner LaChanze (The Color Purple, Once on This Island) as Diva Donna. They each have spectacular pipes, but nearly every number is cut into with plot details so very few songs are heard straight through from beginning to end, sapping the life from even the most dynamic numbers. The ensemble consists primarily of women who perform the roles gender-neutral: They do a whole lot of voguing when not portraying men, not entirely successfully. Also in the cast are Ken Robinson (The Color Purple, Memphis) as Donna’s father, Drew Wildman Foster (Doctor Zhivago, Sunset Boulevard) as Donna’s first husband, Helmuth Sommer, and Jared Zirilli (Lysistrata Jones, Romance Language) as Summer’s second husband, Bruce Sudano. Two-time Tony winner McAnuff’s staging does indeed feature disco balls but nothing very memorable; Tony nominee Sergio Trujillo’s (Memphis, On Your Feet!) choreography is less than dazzling, save for some late spinning by DeBose, who seemed to let it all out despite a program insert saying she would not be performing fully because of an injury. Even Paul Tazewell’s sequin-heavy costumes fail to inspire; early on, Diva Donna has to ask the audience what it thinks of her blue gown in order to get applause. The theater is so packed with Summer devotees that very often the first notes of a song are met with cheers as it becomes recognizable, as if this were a concert, not a Broadway musical. But heaven knows it is a Broadway musical, with expensive tickets, and all of us work hard for our money, too hard to spend it on a show that’s just not hot stuff.

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