Summer: The Donna Summer Musical on Broadway

 “Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater and film critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

How could a good story he told so badly?

That is what I wondered while watching ‘Summer: The Donna Summer Musical’ now on Broadway.

 Image: broadway.com

Her life story has many parts to it that would seem to be the stuff of compelling theater:

As a child, she was a star singer in her church- but was sexually abused by her priest.

She was a witness to a murder which made her want to leave her home town of Boston, which prompted her to get her first break- a part in the touring company of ‘Hair.’

She became the Queen of Disco and broke through several glass ceilings, both as a woman and a woman of color.

She became an unwed mother who was repeatedly assaulted by a boyfriend from Germany.

She married a musician and had two more children.

She nearly committed suicide and then became a born again Christian.

And she got cancer.

And then there is her music. From ‘I Feel Love’ and ‘Love to Love You Baby’ to ‘MacArthur Park’ and ‘On the Radio’ to ‘Hot Stuff’ and ‘Last Dance.’

 LaChaze, center. Image: broadway.com

All this should make for a fascinating, compelling story with some great songs, right?

Not in this production. And that’s a real shame. And a waste of talent. LaChanze, who plays “Diva Donna,” is a compelling actress but when she sings she tears the roof off the house and she deserves the Tony nomination she received for Best Actress. Ariana DeBose, playing Disco Donna, was also nominated. And Storm Lever, as Duckling Donna, was solid, too.

The set up for ‘Summer: The Donna Summer Musical’ is Summer’s life told at 3 phases: “Duckling Donna”- her childhood, “Disco Donna” and, in her later years, “Diva Donna,” the role portrayed by LaChanze. But there are so many problems with this show I wondered if it was rushed to Broadway just to beat the upcoming Cher musical- which also happens to feature three actresses playing THAT diva at the same three phases of HER life.

 

 image: broadwaydirect.com

And I wondered because this show just didn’t seem ready for Broadway. The most fascinating parts of Summer’s life go by in the blink of an eye so they could squeeze in another one of her many hits (23 are included) in this 100-minute, intermission-less show. And the cast suffers from the hurried pace as the ensemble seems to constantly be rushing around to hit their marks on the ample stage of the Lunt-Fontanne theater.

Des McAnuff, who did great, award-winning work directing the story of the ‘Jersey Boys’ completely misses the mark here- and he not only directed this but he’s listed as one of the book writers, too.

There’s no real emotional connection. The scenes just move along quickly and the larger-than-life projections by Sean Nieuwenhuis add eye candy but no depth to the proceedings. The only hint of real feelings comes when Jared Zirilli, who plays Summer’s husband, Bruce Sudano, has his scenes with her.

The script is filled with pandering lines like one where Summer says she has to work twice as hard for “half the pay” as a man- but, as handled here, these come across as strictly politically correct throwaway lines just to get the women in the audience to cheer.

And, of course, that leads into ‘She Works Hard for the Money.’ Echoing a song from the show, “Enough is Enough.” Sound, by Gareth Owen, wavered frequently, too- from muddy, to terrific to over echoed.

And, because the creative team ruined a great real-life story with a rushed pace and such a bad script- in spite of a strong performance by LaChanze- I give ‘Summer: The Donna Summer Musical’ just 1-1/2 stars out of five.

Catch my reviews right here this time each week and on my Facebook page and website, Katz Reviews dot com, where you will find all my WICC 600 reviews. This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”

 

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