We saw this back in New York, during it’s Broadway run, and left the theatre on a high. Maybe not because of the story, which is a true one so wasn’t lived to be shaped into two acts. But the staging, the music, and the performers were off-the-chain (bear with me, I know I’m a nerd).
It’s on tour now and playing L.A. for a few weeks at the Pantages.
I remember hearing “I Feel Love” sitting in the back of my parents’ car in Japan listening to Casey Kasem American Top 40 show broadcast on the military’s radio station, FEN. Donna didn’t really come into focus for me until “MacArthur Park” and “Last Dance”, culminating in full-on fandom with the “Bad Girls” album. Ooh, it’s so good, it’s so good. I even loved her post-disco work, where she found herself Disco Queen Without a Country and managed to produce some fine work (especially love her PWL album “Another Place And Time”).
Knowing this, you can see I was the prime audience for “Summer”. Like “The Cher Show”, they have three actors playing Donna for the different stages of her life, with those iterations interacting at different points in the story. When we saw it, there was Diva Donna played by LaChanze, Disco Donna played by Ariana DeBose, and Duckling Donna played by Storm Lever. All were incredible, of course. And a genius move was to make the chorus mostly women, wearing men’s and women’s clothes as needed. Those dancers were fierce.
Storywise, we get the ups and downs and some fairly dramatic scenes I had no idea about (abusive boyfriend). Again, a life not lived to fill the shape of two or three acts, so it gets kind of shapeless toward the end when she’s semi-retired and just focusing on her kids. But that’s a real life.
I had some issues with the set design and costumes, which were a little slick and cold, although the aim may have been to keep her from being stuck in any time period and seem dated.
However, when they turned up her hits, like “MacArthur Park”, the show soared, of course. It felt like the audience and the performers both were levitating at one point. The one-two punch of “Hot Stuff” and “Last Dance” at the finale seals the deal and leaves you dancing out of the theater.
So if you love Donna, I say see it, but knowing that you’re not there for the tight story, but for her music and the great memories it has provided us over the last 40+ years.