There's no shortage of vocal talent in "Summer: The Donna Summer Musical" — and that's the best thing I can say about the jukebox musical detailing the life of singer/songwriter Donna Summer. The story of how the famed Queen of Disco ended up at the top of the charts is poorly told. But, fortunately, the music's the thing here, and on that front the show does not disappoint.
She certainly did work hard for the money. The show's creators framed the story around the many adversities she suffered: Sexual abuse, domestic violence, mismanagement, drug addiction, a suicide attempt, and the lung cancer that took her life in 2012.
It's all glossed over in a rudimentary paint-by-the-numbers presentation. And the narrative structure, bouncing back-and-forth in time, prevents us from gaining a clear sense of Summer's career progression and accomplishments. We do learn that her great talents extended far beyond disco songs, and she was determined to break out of Studio 54.
Of course, that's where she truly was Queen, and the tunes that shot her to stardom in the '70s — "Last Dance," "Bad Girls," "Hot Stuff," among so many others — are thrillingly performed by a phenomenal trio of actresses. Depicting three stages of Summer's life, Storm Lever plays Duckling Donna, Ariana DeBose is Disco Donna, and LaChanze is Diva Donna. The numbers are loosely arranged, with the women singing separately and together throughout. Fans in the audience, encouraged to sing and dance along, are clearly feeling the love.
Sergio Trujillo provided slick choreography, but with all that disco music, dancing should have taken a more prominent role.
Summer's controversial remark that "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" is addressed here as a complete misunderstanding. And with Summer's claim about being in a world of mystery and androgyny, director Des McAnuff curiously mixes up male and female roles. So strange to see Summer's longtime producer Giorgio Moroder played by a woman.
I would have loved to love this one, but despite some hot performances, "Summer" was just lukewarm.