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.
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