THE ICON OF DISCO GETS UNDERCUT IN THIS JUKE BOX BIO, BUT THE MUSIC IS THE HEART OF THIS SHOW
The Holiday season at Broadway SF is heating up the winter season with the national tour of “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical”. This 2018 Broadway musical, now at the Golden Gate Stage through Dec. 29th, focuses on the 70s pop music icon who sustained a varied and respected singing career into the new millennium. The Las Vegas style show is eye popping disco directed by Des MaAnuff who won a Tony for JERSEY BOYS. The show consists of 23 songs Summer recorded written by Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte, Paul Jabara and others. To tie them together, the musical’s book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary and Des McAnuff splits Donna into three actors, representing three stages of her life, much like THE CHER MUSICAL. The three gifted actors Dan’yelle Williamson, Alex Hairston and Oliva Elese Hardy have terrific voices.
"Diva Donna” played by Dan’yelle Williamson, as the mature mother, brings onstage the two other Donnas, explaining this threesome with a single statement: “Welcome to the hall of mirrors.” The show opens with the classic “The Queen in Back” and “I Feel Love” that rouses the audience as if we are about to see a 90 minute concert. The flashback story begins ““I’m an ugly duckling,” says the teen age Donna to her father, Andrew Gaines played by the dapper Erick Pinnick. Her mother Mary Gaines (now played by Williamson) reminds the teenager “the ugly duckling becomes a beautiful black swan.” Young Donna has the confidence to sing in church, delivering the soulful song “On My Honor.”
Donna Summer co-wrote and recorded some of the definitive disco hits of the 70s and ‘80s, so the score is a sure pop winner, and her fan base has aged to perfection: they are tenderly nostalgic, financially settled and still willing to get up to cheer and dance. McAnuff uses his classic stop the show moments as we saw in JERSEY BOYS, after a rousing number he pauses the show so the fans in the house can cheer and in some cases stand. Something I am not that fond of, milking the audience. Summer’s life story has all the bio-musical issues: Childhood trauma and a fast rise to fame. Her sexy gold record hit “Love to Love You Baby” earned her the banner of “The Queen of Disco,” which she spent most of her career trying to avoid.
She meets her first husband Helmuth Summer (Jay Garcia) while living in Germany and has her first daughter. She also meets her second husband, composer and bassist Bruce Sudano played by Steven Grant Douglas. The “No More Tears Enough Is Enough,” reflects the abuse Donna suffered with Helmuth. Later she tells us this song isn’t about Helmuth; it’s about “all the men” leading up to this moment.
Donna Summer with her three daughters
She is remembered for an anti-gay comment the born-again Summer made during the AIDS era. The club scene she dominated was heavily populated by gay men. Summer reportedly said that AIDS was a punishment from God for the immoral lifestyles of homosexuals. As a result, she became the target of a boycott, that put a dent in her career. It wasn’t until 1990 that she came forward to say the whole controversy was “a terrible misunderstanding.” It gets an explanation in the show and a song she wrote about her gay friends who died in the late 80s. Summer handing over her daughter’s upbringing to grandma and grandpa gets the shortest of mentions. Many or her more dark history is white washed with a sparkly gloss.
There’s a funeral for her dear friend Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart who suffered from HIV, she sings “Dim All the Lights” in his memory. She signs with David Geffen, and she sings “She Works Hard for the Money” as she twists the industry in favor for better rights for women artists. Her exploitation and betrayal by the music industry to fight back for the real money she deserved to earn was a highlight in her early #MeToo career.
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo creates each era with appropriate eye candy dance moves. Director McAnuff surprisingly creates stunning performances with his three Donnas. The disco ball only makes one appearance and I was impressed by that. The set is sleek and based on projections including Summers paintings she created when she settled down as a mom to focus on her three daughters.
The death of disco, and her lung cancer made her strong and powerful. Before her death in 2012, she staged one last comeback older and wiser, she ends her career as a devoted mom of three and retaining the money she fought for and help other women win better earnings. The show is more like a concert than a book musical. We don’t come away knowing all that much about the real Donna Summer. Yet none of this stopped me from standing up and cheering, for “Last Dance.” The hour and 50 min musical succeeds in its icon talent Donna Summer and the sadness of her loss. Next up at SF Broadway is THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL February 12th and STINGS LAST SHIP that opens Feb 22 both at the Goldengate. But in the meantime heat up your Holiday season with the great Donna Summer.
BROADWAY SF PRESENTS
The Donna Summer Musical
Book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary and Des McAnuff, with
Songs by Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Jabara and others
Directed by Des McAnuff
Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo
Music Supervised by Ron Melrose
MUST CLOSE Dec 29th
01 Taylor Street SF
Tickets, visit broadwaysf.com
Call BroadwaySF Audience Services at 888-746-1799. Tickets prices start at $56.
Discount Rush 40.00 Seats at TodayTix.com