By Justin Rimpi
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical opened at the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre on April 23, 2018. This musical tells the story of LaDonna Adrian Gaines, widely known by her stage name Donna Summer at three distinct stages of her life. They are represented by three characters: Diva Donna, Disco Donna and Duckling Donna.
Diva Donna is played by Tony winner LaChanze, Disco Donna is played by Tony nominee Ariana Debose, and Duckling Donna is played by Storm Lever. All three of these Donna’s play an enormous role in telling the whole story of a woman who had so many twists and turns throughout her life. From being sexually assaulted as a young girl in church in Boston, to becoming a musical sensation, to dying of cancer at 63.
While Summer tries to tell such a nuanced story in such a short time, it routinely misses the mark. Twenty three of the artists songs are used in the show, but they unfortunately do not gel with the story. It seemed the producers wanted to cram as many songs as they could in a short period of time, without thinking of how to use them to their full potential. These songs are certainly classics, and were performed admirably by the three Donna’s, but even their performances could not save a poorly done show.
As Summer progresses it gets harder and harder to follow the events transpiring. At times, there were multiple Donna’s on stage at the same time, and they would both sing communicate with one another. The three versions of Summer would be seen talking amongst each other, often about each other’s life choices.
This show definitely did bring the fun and had the audience members dancing to some of Summer’s biggest hits. This was pronounced in the closing number of the show. That closing number was the biggest Summer’s illustrious musical career. The song ,“Last Dance” , was performed by LaChanze.
The audience was clapping, and some audience members even danced, as LaChanze belted out this classic from decades earlier that sounded fresh and exciting. If the old adage, “It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish,” applies here then this would be a much better show than it ultimately was.
This show set out to accomplish a lofty set of goals, and ultimately fell short. Individuals that grew up listening to Summer and idolizing her will not find themselves coming out of this show warm and fuzzy. Instead, they will feel that the “Queen of Disco” deserved better, and this is not the best way for her to be remembered.
Instead Summer should be remembered for what she was. A musical icon, and the creator hits that will live on for decades to come. Not through a show that tried to run through her life, but could not get to the bottom of what they were searching for.
The Donna Summer Musical is currently in an open run.