Desperately Seeking The Exit, Peter Michael Marino’s no-frills, one-man show currently playing in the modest performance space in the basement of the Triple Crown on Seventh Avenue (just south of Madison Square Garden), actually started out in life as a $7-million dollar West End musical named Desperately Seeking Susan, based on the 1985 movie with Madonna. No lie. With music by Blondie. A brilliant idea, it crashed and burned. You can’t make this stuff up.
The cast of characters in this amazing theatrical disaster epic includes Mr. Marino himself, who had the idea to write a theatrical version of the cult hit film Desperately Seeking Susan, featuring the music of Blondie. It was to become one of the biggest West End disasters in recent memory, closing after four weeks of performances, and it is something of a miracle that Mr. Marino has emerged from the rubble to tell its story. It must have been very painful for him as it was happening, but he has managed to make it excruciatingly funny in the telling. Deborah Harry is also one of the characters inDesperately Seeking The Exit, since she wrote some additional music for the show and it was from her that Mr. Marino acquired the rights to Blondie’s music over lunch at Sardi’s. Famous directors and actors are brought onboard for the development process, the Gersh Agency gets involved and suddenly Mr. Marino is on a British Airways flight headed for London and rehearsals. He is immediately banished from rehearsals by the director, and that’s where things start to head south not just for Mr. Marino but also for the show. Of course there is a procession of various creative types: Madonna, the producers, the director Angus Jackson, the designers and choreographer, and then there is the Bataan-like march toward opening night once Mr. Marino has gotten back inside the theatre to see what they’ve done to his show. It isn’t pretty, but it is laugh out loud funny.
Peter Michael Marino is an infectiously enthusiastic storyteller, and lest you think he is just having his revenge upon the people who ruined his show, let me assure you he is gleefully doing just that. The narrative is written extremely well, and Mr. Marino is an accomplished performer and improv artist in his own right, apart from his other many talents. He passes out candy from London’s on Bleecker Street and hand-wrapped jam cakes to the audience, and even hurls tomatoes at them as well (alright, well, fluffy fake ones, and it’s more like lobbing them underhand). A self-confessed “Anglo-holic,” he singles out the Brits in the audience to banter with. They are not shy about bantering back, and the give-and-take Mr. Marino has with his audience is part of what makes Exit such fun to attend. He is not afraid to get silly. I first caught this show this past April, right before Mr. Marino took it to London to perform it for a month at the Leicester Square Theatre; directed by John Clancy, it is a much tighter, leaner and meaner show now, and I mean that in a good way. For Mr. Marino, it must have been especially rewarding to take this show back to London.
It has also played in Australia and Scotland, and now that Mr. Marino has returned to New York it plays, somewhat like a pop-up venue, at the Triple Crown on some Sunday nights. Check the website for performance times. To find out all the juicy details of how Desperately Seeking Susan went from a much-anticipated, big budget London show to a solo standup act in the cellar of a bar in lower midtown, you will have to go to see Desperately Seeking The Exit. I am not giving away the whole plot here, since the story does contain some surprising twists, but I would say that if you don’t like to laugh out loud often, and you wouldn’t be remotely interested in finding out what happened backstage during a big-time rehearsal process careening toward an opening night catastrophe, then you probably shouldn’t go. The rest of us will grab a drink at the bar upstairs and settle back in a chair down in the basement for an hour of wickedly funny showbiz merriment, and some occasional candy.
DESPERATELY SEEKING THE EXIT – Triple Crown Underground, 330 7th Ave at 29th Street, NYC. Admission: Tickets are “Pay What You Can,” available on a first-come, first served basis; no advance reservations will be taken. Full bar.
More info: www.SeekingTheExit.com.