“Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” plays an open run at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St., thedonnasummermusical.com
Lookin’ for some hot stuff baby this evenin’? Look somewhere other than the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, now home to “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” (inventive title, no?), the latest addition to Broadway’s never-ending assembly line of mindless jukebox musicals constructed around a singer-songwriter’s biggest pop hits.
All of the late disco queen Donna Summer’s crowd-pleasing hits are featured, “Love to Love You Baby” to “Last Dance.”
Three performers portray Summer at different stages of her life: Storm Lever (Duckling Donna), Ariana DeBose (Disco Donna) and LaChanze (Diva Donna). By strange coincidence, the upcoming Cher jukebox musical (“The Cher Show,” another inventive title) will also have three women playing a single superstar.
LaChanze lends a dynamic leading presence, including a big voice and a weathered, but unfazed and jocular attitude, which contrasts nicely with the vulnerability expressed by Lever and DeBose.
The 50-ish Diva Donna, apparently in the middle of a concert, delivers expository narration to the audience as if it were a one-person show. She segues into fragmented memories (leading to full scenes) of her life.
Director Des McAnuff (“Jersey Boys”) has some interesting ideas, including the nonlinear structure and having women playing many of the male roles, commenting on gender roles and inequality.
But for the most part, the show is rough in form, rushed in pace, sanitized in content, superficial in characterization and self-glorifying in tone. An attempt to address homophobic comments that Summer allegedly made during a concert is handled in a particularly poor manner.
Considering the dramatic episodes in her life, the considerable number of pop hits that she produced and the decadent and gritty 1970s setting, “Summer” ought to have worked, but Broadway’s jukebox musical model has a special way of turning artistic potential into embarrassment.