Monday, May 7, 2018

Weekly Margin 2018, W18: Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, Travesties, The Band's Visit, A Brief History of Women

(note: I saw no shows W17. strange but true)

5/02/18: Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
What: Three ages of Donna (Ducking, Disco, and Diva) tell the story of Donna Summer's childhood, rise to fame, and the obstacles she met along the way.
And? Long story short: really lazy writing, really excellent performances. The book, such as it is, exists on bare bones, only enough to get us from one song to the next, and consists too frequently of narration rather than action (telling vs. showing). However, one embarrassingly bad fight scene aside, I thought this was very well staged (and of a more consistent quality than Frozen or Carousel), and the three women playing Donna were terrific, with incredible voices. The casting of the ensemble was a bit of a treat, too: only five men, balanced by twelve women (not counting the three Donnas), a reversal of the usual gender disparity. Many of the women played both male and female roles, with one delightful lantern hung on the affair (black actress Jenny Laroche referring to her character, Norman Brokaw, as a white man, as if it were self-evident to all of us). I'm not particularly familiar with Donna Summer's song catalog, but those around me were, and met the beginnings of many numbers with enthusiastic applause. For those looking for a fun (and under two hours!) evening with stellar renditions of her songs, this will be a good fit.

LaChanze, Ariana DeBose, and Storm Lever as Diva Donna, Disco Donna,
and Ducking Donna, with the ensemble. Photo by Joan Marcus.

5/04/18: Travesties
A repeat visit (family in town)

5/06/18: The Band's Visit
A repeat visit (family in town)

5/06/18: A Brief History of Women
What: Told in four parts at twenty-year intervals, A Brief History of Women follows the unassuming Anthony Spates from 17-year old footman in a 1920s English manor, to retired 77-year old hotel manager in the very same converted house. He and the house remain ever faithful, even as the characters around them change with each new decade.
And? It doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement to say the scene changes were my favorite part, but guys, the scene changes were freaking awesome and delightful. The play itself was ultimately eh for me, though it did feature some good performances from the ensemble. And the title is entirely misleading and kind of a mistake.

Antony Eden, Louise Shuttleworth, Russell Dixon, Frances Marshall, and
Laura Matthews as Tony Spates, Gillian Dunbar, Dennis Dunbar, Pat
Wriggly, and Jenny Tyler. Photo by Sara Krulwich.


  1. I think they meant to be setting up a moment at the end, when he "hears" the house, through all those carefully worked out movements between rooms and the sudden silences & sonic immersions. These were all impressive enough, and effective, in themselves, but the payoff wasn't there. In the end, the whole thing was weirdly old-fashioned, in both good and bad ways.

    1. Agreed. It wasn't badly done, but it's not something that's going to stick to my ribs.