There are some people who should be permitted to just let their work speak for them. Donna Summer, who passed away in 2012, is one of those people.
In the biographical juke box musical “Summer: the Donna Summer Musical,” which just opened on Broadway, Summer is an exciting presence when performing her music. There is a sense of creative drive about this woman who was known as The Disco Queen.
However, when the show ventures into biography everything seems awkward, contrived and if not fraudulent - then certainly insincere.
The problem of disconnect is made worse as often - too often - a moment from Summer’s life is offered that is supposed to add emotional context to a song.
Granted, the music from the disco era was never noted for its insight, but trying to add real life heartbreak to songs like “Bad Girls,” “She Works Hard for the Money,” “Love to Love You Baby,” somehow lessens the impact of the music that existed primarily to serve as a background to a hedonistic era.
Examples of how the show tries to compensate for a life filled with bad choices is followed by a moment of fondly remembered songs.
Most egregious is the issue of alienating her large gay fan base over the alleged comment that “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”. The musical’s response is to sing “Friends Unknown” and dedicated it to her assistant who died from AIDS. The moment reeks of insincerity.
But for those who know little about Summer’s personal life and are at the show for a musical tribute, expectations are met and exceeded. In only 100 minutes, without an intermission, the show offers two-dozen songs to a rapt audience. Indeed, rarely have I been at a Broadway show at which the audience was more enthusiastic or apparently having a better time.
When the company offers full out production numbers such as “MacArthur Park,” “On the Radio”, it is happy entertainment. And leaving “Last Dance” as a show ending finale that has the entire audience on its feet cheering and dancing is pure entertainment genius.
“Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” is a weak biography but stong entertainment. It playing an open run at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York City.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.