Expectations mean a lot to one’s enjoyment of theater, so I guess it was good that my expectations were subterranean for Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. This biographical songfest divides the role of the disco queen into three parts – Diva Donna (LaChanze), Disco Donna (Ariana DeBose) and Duckling Donna (Storm Lever) – a trio of powerhouse vocalists who rip through nearly two dozen beat-heavy musical numbers in 100 intermissionless minutes.
Fortunately, LaChanze prefaces the sketchy storyline by telling us that the show will be a concert, which almost gets the show’s three writers, Colman Domingo, Robert Cary and director Des McAnuff off the hook for the continuity they have scribbled to connect the songs. It would really help if you knew Summer’s story – and I didn’t – before you enter the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, or the name-dropping will fly right past you.
Even so, there is plenty to enjoy in such numbers as “Enough is Enough,” “Love to Love You Baby,” “Bad Girls” and the thumping finale one-two punch of “Hot Stuff” and “Last Dance,” complete with mirrored balls and a snowstorm of metallic confetti falling on the audience.
The prospects look dim for Tony nominations for Summer – to be announced on Tuesday – maybe for the performers. But judging from the explosive response of the crowd Friday night, Summer could turn into a critic-proof hit.
Hap Erstein is in New York for his annual tour of Broadway shows for ArtsPaper. Follow his tweets @SirHapster.