The Donna Summer Musical Has Hot Tunes, But A Fragile, Cliché Script


The show: “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical”

Written by: Colman Domingo, Robert Cary and Des McAnuff, with music by Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Jabara and others; on national tour presented by Broadway in Boston

What is it about : Delivering 23 hit songs in approximately 100 minutes, the jukebox musical uses actresses of three different ages to navigate some of the highlights from the life story of music superstar Donna Summer, singer Boston Church to “Queen of Disco” and beyond.

To see or not: The show is for summertime fans who want to hear loud singers perform the popular numbers (or at least parts of them): “I Feel Love”, “Heaven Knows”, “On the Radio”, “Hot Stuff”, “She Works Hard for the Money”, “Last Dance” and more. But if you are not already very familiar with Summer or are looking for more than a superficial and fast approach from the lows of Summer’s life offstage – and whether you’re hoping for genuine emotion, context, or consideration of her challenges – this script and national touring production fail to deliver.

Strong points: Although buoyed by less than stellar ensemble performances, sets and choreography, the three actresses at the heart of “Summer” are terrific and engaging singers and each gets their moment to shine musically on their own. Even better is when Diva Donna (Brittny Smith), Disco Donna (Charis Gullage) and Duckling Donna (Amahri Edwards-Jones) perform together and harmonize, and “MacArthur Park” and “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” are particular winners. .

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Fun facts: Summer was a breakthrough performer, especially for a woman of color, and one of the best-selling musical artists of all time. Here are some key stats for the singer-songwriter, none of which — really, NONE — are mentioned in the inadequate script credited to Domingo, Cary, and original director McAnuff. Summer was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, which describes her as “the mother of modern dance music.” She had 42 hit singles on the US Billboard Hot 100, including 14 Top Ten hit singles. Twelve of them occurred between 1976 and 1982, with four No. 1 singles. Summer was the first artist to have three consecutive double albums to reach the top of the US Billboard 200 chart. She was nominated for 18 Grammy Awards , has won five and is the only artist to have won awards in four different genres: R&B, rock, dance and gospel.

To note: Summer has faced a number of personal challenges throughout her life, but this show quickly glosses over them with no exploration or depth, dismissing them with platitudes, lame “jokes” (including about homosexuality and violent assaults) or rushing to the next musical number. . Among the issues brought up, then simplistically brushed aside: childhood sexual abuse, abandonment of his baby girl for her career, depression, substance abuse and addiction, domestic violence, unfair treatment of record producers , a religious awakening, the AIDS crisis (and its alienation from gay fans), and a diagnosis of cancer.

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One more thing : Near the end of the show, as Summer deals with a health crisis, a girl reminds the singer that she has already fought against prejudice, sexism, the media and the recording industry. You wouldn’t know that by this script, though. While leaving a company that bankrupted her, it’s disappointing that audiences can walk away from this musical chant, but with little insight into Summer’s battles and victories as a woman and as a man. black artist.

If you are going to: Through March 6, at the Colonial Theater, 106 Boylston St., Boston; tickets from $44.75; or 888-616-0272; proof of COVID-19 vaccination required, as are masks throughout the performance.

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