Oscar E Moore

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SUMMER – the Donna Summer musical – It takes three to boogie, disco style

May 2nd, 2018 by Oscar E Moore

On April 26, 1977 Studio 54 opened.  On April 26, 2018 I attended the new musical based on the life of the most famous Disco Queen that reigned supreme at Studio 54 – Donna Summer – in SUMMER – the Donna Summer musical.  How appropriate or how ironic I wondered not ever having been at Studio 54.  Those were the days of vinyl LP’s, silver lame, disco balls, drugs, sex, booze, poppers and the new androgynous look.

Perhaps that was what triggered the ill-conceived and bizarre concept of casting mostly females who dress as men, dance as men, act as men and also as women as backup chorus and individual characters.  There are however three male leading men (Aaron Krohn, Ken Robinson and Jared Zirilli) who do an outstanding job at standing up for their gender.

The many incidents of Donna Summer’s life are simplified here (Book by Coleman Domingo, Robert Cary and Des McAnuff) and glossed over with a lot of sequins to make room for the 23 famous musical numbers by Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Jabara and others performed by a trio of Summers:  LaChanze (Diva Donna), Ariana DeBose (Disco Donna) and Storm Lever (Duckling Donna) who give it their all in this entertaining nostalgic songbook.

Des McAnuff has directed at a fast clip that attempts to explain her life through her songs.  And the songs are everything.  That is what all her fans want to hear.  They champ at the bit at every musical intro and are sometimes disappointed when the songs are shortened or they do not have a big ending that will enable them to stand up and cheer and boogie along with the cast.

Indeed, it is LaChanze, early on in her narrative, who encourages the audience to sings along and dance if the spirit moves them.  I have to admit that the musical numbers are terrific.  They are briskly choreographed by Sergio Trujillo.  He has given Ariana DeBose some amazing moves to highlight her talent as a dancer as well as a singer.

But the sometimes preachy book might as well have been jettisoned.  Just get on with the songs.  When that happened, magic happens.  Voices soar and we are brought back to the sounds of the 70’s that truly are boogie inspiring.

The songs are what sell this show.  Along with the performances of our trio of Donnas who are dressed most always in blue.  Was it her favorite color or is it a subtle reference to her being sad beneath her disco happy exterior?

The many costumes by Paul Tazewell are worth special mention.  Lighting by Howell Binkley shines down on the sparse but functional set by Robert Brill.  The now ubiquitous projections are by Sean Nieuwenhuis.

Bruce Sudano is credited with Story Consultant.  They should have had more consultations as she really had a fascinating life.  But you can google all that information on the internet.

Just go to SUMMER for the songs.  Be entertained by “MacArthur Park”, “Heaven Knows”, “On the Radio”, “Bad Girls”, “Hot Stuff” and “Let’s Dance” to name just a few, and have a fun time at this intermission-less (One hundred minute) production at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.  Or better yet, listen to an old LP.


Photos:  Joan Marcus

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