Friday, May 04, 2012

'Susan' for a Bruisin'

Had a hoot at last night's premiere of "Desperately Seeking the Exit," actor/playwright Peter Michael Marino's one-(and-a-half) man autopsy of how his seemingly brilliant idea to use the music of Blondie to turn "Desperately Seeking Susan" into a jukebox musical died a quick and painful death . During his one-hour monologue, we learn how the brash anglophile conceived the show while doing bong hits, and how big-time agents, producers, directors and even Blondie and Madonna quickly jumped on board to make what Marino believed would be the next "Mama Mia," only way cooler. The songs were practically written for this book, he thought, as the bong hits went on into the night: "Dreaming" -- perfect opener to represent Roberta Glass' desire for a new life, away from the boring suburb of Fort Lee; "Call Me" -- what Susan and Jim signal for one another to do via the personal ads, plus Susan is practically a call girl, stealing money and jewelery from her latest trick; "One Way or Another" -- perfect for the creepy blond man who's after "Susan" and the stolen earrings; "Heart of Glass" -- their last name is Glass!!!; "Maria" -- the Glasses' maid is Hispanic!!!; "11:59" -- this is obviously the time the big reveal happens inside the Magic Club; "The Tide Is High" -- could there be a better song for the big finale? -- plus a handful of other great ideas. The initial readings were true to Marino's vision, and he was told by people in the know that he had a big hit on his hands. But then things quickly go awry after a new director (who apparently doesn't like his actors to move -- even during a musical!) and choreographer (who only wants people to move like robots) are brought in.

And while Marino is feeling on top of the world to be making all of his childhood dreams come true -- with Debbie Harry and Madonna's blessings!!! -- he finds himself living in "his second favorite city on Earth," London, but pushed out of the day-to-day rehearsals. From here we get a blow-by-blow description of how his idea -- which was never to make the exact film into a musical, but to move it to the late '70s and make Susan more of a 1979 Debbie Harry Jersey tough girl -- was watered down, chipped away at, and ultimately destroyed as the press ripped him to shreds.

While the topic may seem pretty narrow -- other than me and my friends Greg and Scooter, and apparently our trusty protagonist, I don't know anyone else who can recite every word of "Desperately Seeking Susan" and every lyric of every Blondie song off the top of their head -- the crowd was clearly on board. Speaking with my friends afterward, I learned that theater types could totally relate to the bullshit that goes on behind the scenes (some of these producers' demands would make a kindergartner's eyes roll) and having an idea co-opted by others ("Everyone wants to put their 'mark' on your work, whether it's an improvement or not"). Anyone who likes Blondie would eat up the Debbie Harry gossip, which does not paint her in the most favorable light. And people who are only Madonna fans might come up a little short, but even she makes an appearance in the storyline. (And so does Rosanna Arquette!) But even if you strike out on all of these counts, the lost-in-translation aspect of working in a foreign country -- even one that speaks the same language!!!! -- provides a lot of laughs, as it's hard not to feel for Marino as he watches his dream slip away.

The show is strictly off-off-off-off-off-Broadway -- it's held in the basement of a saloon and the tickets are "pay what you may" -- and while some of my friends were put off by Marino's inability to remember his lines (or even where he'd left off in the story), I found his use of notecards and director John Clancy (the "and-a-half" man) screaming out cues was kind of endearing, and worked with the chaotic story he was telling. To be fair, last night was the first performance. So I'm imagining Marino will improve as he goes along -- and before he moves the show to the UK. But even if he continues to struggle -- this nightmare experience has given him issues with social anxiety disorder and depression, so I cut him some slack -- fans of "Desperately Seeking Susan" and Blondie will not be too disappointed no matter what he does.

Details:
THURSDAYS & FRIDAYS May 3, 4, 11, 17, 18 @ 7PM SHARP
THURSDAY May 10 @ 8PM SHARP
NO RESERVATIONS. PAY WHAT YOU MAY.
Triple Crown Underground. 330 7th Ave./ @ 28th St.
First come, first served.
Official site HERE.


The guys are trying to raise money to take the show to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. For details, click HERE.

1 comment:

Karl said...

The show actually moves to Manchester in July for the UK Premiere before moving to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival.

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