SUMMER isn't Necessarily the Hottest Stuff
I've almost started to lose track of how many jukebox bio musicals have come out. To be honest, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical isn't one I've given a second thought to since it played Broadway. After seeing it...I probably won't give it much more either.
While the vocal performances are first-rate, notably from each of the Donnas - the oldest, Diva (Dan'yelle Williamson); middle Disco (Alex Hairston) and youngest Duckling (Olivia Elease Hardy); I didn't really feel much love for the production's book/concept.
The story isn't linear...which doesn't make it very hard to follow, but with barely any knowledge of Donna's story, the layout didn't make a ton of sense either. It's essentially a bunch of vignettes of important moments in the diva's life. From her beginnings in a German production of Hair, (where she met the father of her first child, who eventually turned violent) to her rise as a young, sexualized Queen of Disco, a title of which she wasn't too fond.
These pieces of story are threaded throughout her discography of disco hits. I didn't find the story incredibly intriguing most of the time. There were more powerful moments, sure, like when she took the rights to her music back, an iconic moment in music history. But then there were moments devoted to things like apologizing to her gay fans for an offensive comment, which felt a little forced. Clearly a nod to a moment in her life I didn't have much context on.
The production also had a strong comment on androgyny, with many of the male roles played by females in drag. While I had hoped to enjoy this, it too felt like forced unnecessary commentary to distract from the awkwardly crafted book. The power move of having women play male roles didn't go unnoticed, but it also took away from the actual androgyny of men dancing eccentrically to disco hits. I wanted to love it, but it just didn't work as intended for me.
Visually it's fairly stunning, with high-energy dance numbers, spectacular lighting and sleek modern set design, often featuring projected portraits of the Disco Queen herself.
It was clear she didn't have much say in the creation of her musical, which premiered several years after her death in 2012. Perhaps her input would have made the production a touch more focused and honest. Unfortunately, aside from the music, this one just didn't work very well for me.
Summer: The Donna Summer Musical plays the Buell Theatre through Feb 9. Tickets at DenverCenter.org.
Photos: Matthew Murphy