The critics have spoken and the team behind Summer: The Donna Summer Musical isn’t working hard enough for the money. Excepting LaChanze’s mostly compelling performance of Diva Donna, one of three characters that together depict the legendary Donna Summer, this new jukebox musical may start feeling more like a jokebox musical. With a sanitized storyline that refuses to explore the complexities of Summer’s life (or even skips elements, seemingly for convenience) and a score that jams in so many numbers that it really can’t contextualize or do justice to any, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical never really feels like a tribute to the Queen of Disco. We wanted hot stuff, we got microwaved leftovers.
NY TIMES REVIEW OF SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL
The biographical jukebox musical — of which “Jersey Boys” provides a shining example, thanks to all the Brylcreem — is the cockroach of Broadway. It has a small head, a primitive nervous system and will probably outlast the apocalypse. Even by that standard, “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical,” which opened on Monday at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, is a blight. Despite the exciting vocalism of a cast led by the formidable LaChanze, it reduces the late Queen of Disco and pioneer of electronica to a few factoids and song samples that make her seem profoundly inconsequential. You could learn more (and more authentically) by reading a thoughtful obituary while listening to her hits — “Hot Stuff,” “Last Dance,” “She Works Hard for the Money,” among many others — online. But then you would not be contributing to the music publishing enterprise that keeps jukebox musicals coming no matter how hard they get stomped on by critics.
HOLLYWOOD REPORTER REVIEW OF SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL
There’s a blink-and-you-miss-it visual joke in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, dropped in while the title character is belting “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” the disco anthem in which two take-charge women with killer pipes and a funky bass line vow to kick out the deadbeat men dragging them down. As often happens in this show with a protagonist in triplicate, the song is performed as a double-Donna duet. But Summer’s original partner on the 1979 hit does make a cameo appearance. When a hard-to-shake lover who has followed her from Munich to the Hollywood Hills shows up and starts smacking her around, Donna lays him out by socking him in the jaw with a Barbra Streisand coffee-table book. Finally, the perfect use for those hefty vanity tomes! Sadly, that’s one of the few decent jokes in this tacky little show, a feebly dramatized Wikipedia page with lackluster covers, which was rushed to Broadway following a fall tryout at La Jolla Playhouse that received mostly tepid reviews. And yet it shows no sign of improvements having been attempted. Heaven knows it’s not the way it should be.
DEADLINE REVIEW OF SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL
Anyone who worked as hard for her money – and for a professional respect that came too late – as Donna Summer did deserves so much more than this. A jukebox musical that could undo all the genre rehab delivered by superior shows built around Carole King and, if you want to stretch the definition a bit to include Lazarus, David Bowie, Broadway’s Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, opening tonight, is as unimaginative as its title. With the saving graces of really fine vocal performances from LaChanze, Ariana DeBose and young Storm Lever – each plays the disco great at different points in her life – Summer dutifully pastes the life events of LaDonna Adrian Gaines to the hits she’d perform under the name thought up by pioneering producer Giorgio Moroder. “Summer,” the show’s writers have Moroder saying. “You know, like the season. Hot.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY REVIEW OF SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL
If you’re lookin’ for some hot stuff on Broadway, you’ve come to the right place. Summer: The Donna Summer Musical delivers the seasonal sunshine. It just doesn’t also bring a whole lotta depth. The biographical show kicks off with “The Queen Is Back” and “I Feel Love” and LaChanze as “Diva Donna,” the eldest of three “Donnas” in the production, addressing the audience and suggesting we’d be seeing “the concert of a lifetime.” Soon, we’re introduced to “Disco Donna” (Ariana DeBose) writhing through recording “Love to Love You Baby” in a studio in Germany and young LaDonna Adrian Gaines — aka “Duckling Donna” (Storm Lever) — performing for family and neighbors in her living room and at church. From there, the 100-minute show begins flying through key moments in Summer’s life, spotlighting highlights but not dancing around the low points like her drug use, financial battles with her record label, and a controversy around comments she reportedly made in the early ’90s regarding the AIDS epidemic. During the performance I attended, the audience reached a breaking point about midway through and could no longer just tap and bop to the familiar tracks, and they began to sing along…
AM NEW YORK REVIEW OF SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL
Lookin’ for some hot stuff baby this evenin’? Look somewhere other than the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, now home to “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” (inventive title, no?), the latest addition to Broadway’s never-ending assembly line of mindless jukebox musicals constructed around a singer-songwriter’s biggest pop hits. All of the late disco queen Donna Summer’s crowd-pleasing hits are featured, “Love to Love You Baby” to “Last Dance.” Three performers portray Summer at different stages of her life: Storm Lever (Duckling Donna), Ariana DeBose (Disco Donna) and LaChanze (Diva Donna). By strange coincidence, the upcoming Cher jukebox musical (“The Cher Show,” another inventive title) will also have three women playing a single superstar.