How do you turn one of the West End’s biggest flops into a success? Turn its story into a 70 minute hilarious monologue, of course! And that is exactly what writer Peter Michael Marino has bravely done here.

On 15 November 2007, the much-hyped Desperately Seeking Susan opened at the Novello Theatre in a blaze of glory. A jukebox musical featuring the songs of Blondie (with a hint of Madonna) and based on the cult movie of the same name, it had all the right ingredients. A month later, after poor reviews and a distinctly unimpressed audience, it closed.

Marino’s latest production, named after the title of a particularly scathing reviews, tells the story of how the ill-fated musical was devised, and how even Debbie Harry turned her back on it after its short but disastrous West-End run.

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As the lights go down, a theatrical trailer for Desperately Seeking Susan plays before the writer arrives on stage. He is initially difficult to connect with but, before long, we settle in to an engaging and amusing tale of a dysfunctional creative team, a worried cast and a very stressed writer, all trying to bring the same script to life but with very different visions – “The choreographer was in one room making all the small moments big. The director was in the other room making all the big moments small!”

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The result was, as we know, a disaster. After less than a fortnight, closure notices were posted on internet chatrooms before the producers had even informed the cast or writer. The show closed its doors on 13 December 2007. Debbie Harry watched the penultimate performance and, the next day, sent Peter an email articulating her feelings:


I’m done with this.

XO Deb”

Desperately Seeking Susan was resurrected in Tokyo during 2009 to rave reviews and amazing levels of audience feedback. This fresh production, under new directorship, ran for its full length and pulled Marino out of the year-long depression the London flop had left him in.
John Clancy has directed Desperately Seeking the Exit with just the right amount of vitality. Marino is, at various points, hugely animated and then wistful as he looks back on some of the more painful moments. He skilfully keeps the pain from dragging the audience down and, instead, keeps us laughing throughout his performance as we hear tales of haemorrhoids, Madonna and the bong hit that inspired it all.
Perhaps made doubly poignant this week, with the announcement that the Spice Girls musical Viva Forever is closing at the end of June, Desperately Seeking the Exit is an amusing, fun and energetic monologue on just how easily a sure-fire hit can go disastrously wrong.
Desperately Seeking the Exit plays at the Leicester Square Theatre until 20 May – running for longer than the musical that inspired it! Tickets £12.50 from the Leicester Square Theatre website.
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