“Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” – ASU Gammage

Theater Review – January 8, 2020


Broadway Across America, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

Donna Summer was an iconic pop/rock singer but you would never know it from the terrible jukebox musical “tribute” “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.”  The show presents a confusing and unclear picture even though two dozen OF Summer’s hits are sung.  Some of these pop tunes are well sung but they are surrounded by a plethora of lame jokes and too many of the songs have been badly rearranged.

Three performers play Summer at various points in her career but the sloppy book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary, and Des McAnuff who penned the far superior “Jersey Boys” that created a glowing remembrance of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.

The three Summers craft a blended biography which never makes it clear why or how the singer became a superstar.  The book also exposes Summer’s sexual abuse as a young girl and, while sad, the show never makes audiences truly care about the star.  This tiresome performance never details why Summer was so adored.

Author McAnuff also staged the show and it is littered with trite musical theater clichés like repetitious choreography, sloppy sets that try to dazzle with ever changing colors but are merely boring distractions.

On Broadway, the show had dynamic La Chanze as star but in this slapdash tour, Dan’yelle Williamson essays the Diva Donna with lackluster insipidness, Alex Hairston shimmies and shackes but does little else as Disco Donna, while Olivia Elease Hardy plays Donna’s daughter Mimi and also tackles Duckling Donna with awkward insincerity.  The rest of the lifeless cast is monotonous even though they all swagger with artificial exuberance.  The tiny band is OK but the show is bolstered by blasting sound amplification.

Enough about the lackluster show but some comments about sloppy ASU Gammage housekeeping, the local host of Broadway tours.  Insufficient time was permitted so the tour couldn’t make the announced 7:30 curtain.  Delaying the start until 8:00 crammed the lobbies with an annoyed audience who had to stand while the show finished setting up.  Every ASU Gammage opening this season has started past the posted curtain time.

“Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” failed both after its La Jolla Playhouse premiere and during its Broadway engagement so why was it included on the local Broadway season?  Unsuspecting local audiences think they buy tickets to a Broadway hit.  Bottom line is even Donna Summer fans should stay away from “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” because it does not do justice to a great pop singer.  “Donna: The Donna Summer Musical” continues through January 12.  For tickets, contact Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787 or order tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: F-