From left, Alex Hairston (Disco Donna), Dan’yelle Williamson (Diva Donna) and Olivia Elease Hardy (Duckling Donna) sing up a storm in “Summer” at the Golden Gate Theatre. (Courtesy Matthew Murphy for Murphymade)

From left, Alex Hairston (Disco Donna), Dan’yelle Williamson (Diva Donna) and Olivia Elease Hardy (Duckling Donna) sing up a storm in “Summer” at the Golden Gate Theatre. (Courtesy Matthew Murphy for Murphymade)

‘Summer’ turns up the old victrola

Disco queen’s hits sound great in shallow jukebox musical

Even though it glosses over so much in the life of the Queen of Disco, it’s still hard to resist “Summer The Donna Summer Musical.”

True, the 100-minute jukebox musical onstage at the Golden Gate Theatre has hackneyed dialogue, a check-the-boxes treatment of events in the singer’s dramatic life, jokes that land flat, little characterization, insufficient exploration of relationships and “Solid Gold”-style dance numbers.

But the significant flaws in the book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary and “Jersey Boys” director Des McAnuff (executed under McAnuff’s direction here as well) are overshadowed by the great familiar songs.

They’re sung by three appealing ladies representing the star who ruled pop charts in the 1970s and early ‘80s at different phases: Olivia Elease Hardy as young Duckling Donna, Alex Hairston as early career Disco Donna and Dan’Yelle Williamson as mature Diva Donna.

Diva Donna narrates, breaking the fourth wall at the outset, ensuring the audience, “I will make sure every note hits you.”

They almost do.

Backed with a busy projection design, the sometimes cheesy production gets off to an odd start with “The Queen Is Back,” a little-known 2008 song, with appealing androgynous dancers. (Sadly, the show inadequately addresses Summer’s importance to, and conflicts with, the LGBT community.)

Next are Summer’s orgasmic breakouts with Giorgio Moroder, “I Feel Love” and “Love to Love You Baby,” which get short shrift.

But once Summer proves herself as a serious singer in “MacArthur Park,” the hits keep coming, and they sound really good, from “Heaven Knows” to “Dim All the Lights” and “Bad Girls.”

Even though it’s part of a silly scene where Summer demonstrates bad driving in Los Angeles, “On the Radio” resonates — joy seemed to be vibrating from rows of folks in the orchestra section Wednesday at the show’s opening — and the anthem “She Works Hard for the Money” makes sense in a segment about Summer’s battle with her record company.

“No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” comes in a confusing domestic violence scene — one of many that superficially look at big issues from pill popping to sexual abuse in the church — but it, too, sounds fantastic.

By the time the disco ball finally drops at Studio 54 and Summer declares “I am the party,” the music’s taken over: Summer, who died in 2012, indeed was hot stuff.

On opening night, after the final note of “Last Dance” played, the audience didn’t want to leave the theater.

REVIEW

Summer The Donna Summer Musical

Presented by Broadway SF

Where: Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., S.F.

When: 7:30 p.m. most Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. most Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Dec. 29

Tickets: $76 to $256

Contact: broadwaysf.com

Pop MusicTheater

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Advocates with the San Francisco Public Bank Coalition hold a rally outside City Hall before the Board of Supervisors were to vote on a resolution supporting the creation of a public banking charter on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Should San Francisco run its own public bank? The debate returns

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, momentum was building for San Francisco to… Continue reading

Apprenticeship instructor Mike Miller, center, demonstrates how to set up a theodolite, a hyper-sensitive angle measuring device, for apprentices Daniel Rivas, left, Ivan Aguilar, right, and Quetzalcoatl Orta, far right, at the Ironworkers Local Union 377 training center in Benicia on June 10, 2021. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters)
California’s affordable housing crisis: Are labor union requirements in the way?

By Manuela Tobias CalMatters California lawmakers introduced several bills this year that… Continue reading

People fish at a dock at Islais Creek Park on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What Islais Creek tells us about rising sea levels in San Francisco

Islais Creek is an unassuming waterway along San Francisco’s eastern industrial shoreline,… Continue reading

Organizer Jas Florentino, left, explains the figures which represent 350 kidnapped Africans first sold as slaves in the United States in 1619 in sculptor Dana King’s “Monumental Reckoning.” The installation is in the space of the former Francis Scott Key monument in Golden Gate Park. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What a reparations program would look like in The City

‘If there’s any place we can do it, it’s San Francisco’

Officer Joel Babbs, pictured at a protest outside the Hall of Justice in 2017, is representing himself in an unusually public police misconduct matter. <ins>(Courtesy Bay City News)</ins>
The strange and troubling story of Joel Babbs: What it tells us about the SFPD

The bizarre and troubling career of a whistle-blowing San Francisco police officer… Continue reading

Most Read