If that is Donna Summer, then that has to be the late 70s and early 80s, the age of disco dance in the clubs and roller skating in the Roxy. (And let us not discuss the styles.)
However, you won’t get a lot of feeling the times in “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical,” a narrow-minded jukebox musical which views its own titular heroine in a vacuum. The wonderful songs are essentially here: “Love to Love You Baby,” “White Boys,” “MacArthur Park,” “Heaven Knows,” “Bad Girls,” “She Works Hard for the Money,” “Hot Stuff” and “Last Dance,” to jumpstart several names away from the top. LaChanze is here, also, also in magnificent voice, together with a thin biographical publication that barely does justice to Summer’s their songs.
There is no feeling of exactly what Summer represented into the boys and women madly dance the night away to her heart-thumping rhythms and soaring vocals. She had been the affirmation of existence, of music, of dance at the face of existential dread. In case “Angels in America” (also currently on Broadway) was the inexplicable departure mask of these days, subsequently, Diva Donna was the heartbeat of existence — not any of this comes through in this anemic musical.
LaChanze rocked “The Color Purple,” which won her an acting Tony at 2006. She has good stage presence and, clearly, this roof-raising voice. However, sharing the stage together with the pre-teen Duckling Donna (Storm Lever, boring) and Disco Donna (Ariana DeBose, duller) does not triple her power, which appears to have been the purpose, since the other brothers are no match to her.
Therefore, despite some fantastic tunes and uplifting vocals from her backup singers, LaChanze is pressed to take the entire series on her rear. She does not even get a rest from costumer Paul Tazewell, that has set her to garish frocks, or by wig designer Charles G. LaPointe, whose hairdos look totally trashy. Together with her locks and bloodsucker-red lipstick, Donna Summer needed a look that has been radically vibrant although not affordable, a distinction which appears to have contradicted the designers.
What does work is that the costuming of feminine singer-dancers in men’s haul, glossy suits with blank lines and fine tailoring? Choreographer Sergio Trujillo provides those long-limbed beauties hot moves which are extremely much valued in this under-choreographed show. Drag not just looks good on point, but it also faithfully remembers the disco age, which was about transgression, sexual and otherwise, and a lot of cross-dressing.
Des McAnuff, who headed the series after it premiered at La Jolla, does the heading here, also. Giving the designers entirely free rein might have been a mistake, however, he reveals more ability in establishing the tunes and giving his diva the stage to provide them. The national scenes composed by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary, and McAnuff, nevertheless, die the death, crushed under boulders of inane conversation. Mommy was adoring, Daddy was stringent, and the remainder is boilerplate.
“People say I sing like a police siren.” What is that? A funny lineup? Here is the following: “On a fantastic day I felt just like Judy Garland in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ On a bad day, I felt just like Judy Garland — interval.” Cherish these traces, since the laughs are few and far between.
The song lyrics, not the spoken dialog, are what matter in this series. The lyrics of disco would be the speech of their late 70s and early 80s — manic, druggy, desperate for a fantastic time. Her music gave voice to this distressed, fearful, amazing time when nobody understood what was coming when everybody was decided to dance their anxieties off before the sun comes up along with also the “Last Dance” is finished.