Desperately Seeking the Exit / Free Festival

Heard of screenwriter William Goldman's rule about Hollywood? 'Nobody knows anything.' Yes, despite people having made movies for more than a century, still no one knows exactly how to make a successful one. Supposed sure-fire hits can bleed dollars by the millions, while the weirdest long shots – say a small comedy drama starring Rosanna Arquette and an up-and-coming singer called Madonna - just occasionally win big. To put it another way: for every Heaven's Gate, there's a Desperately Seeking Susan.

As in Hollywood, so on Broadway and in London's West End. When the American writer and performer Peter Michael Marino came up with the idea of a 'gritty' musical adaptation of Desperately Seeking Susan, anchored to the back catalogue of Blondie, he wasn't the only one to think it would be a success. Producers, financiers and the rights holders all jumped on board, despite Marino not having a particularly large CV. Given the quality of talent that subsequently became involved, the general view was that this was surely money safely in the bank. The show was savaged by the critics and ran for just four weeks in the West End in 2007.

There's some irony, then, in the fact that Marino's one-man show giving his take on the whole sorry escapade from page to stage has not only toured internationally, but also enjoyed a longer run in the West End than the musical it is nominally about. But that's just the way it is.There's probably a simple reason for this: Marino's show is clearly focused, a singular vision compared with the directionless, committee-written horror that Desperately Seeking Susan: The Musical became in London. More importantly, despite the physical and psychological toll it apparently took on Marino, it's also a remarkably positive story, told with élan and without rancour; this is no self-satisfied rant about how everyone mutilated his baby beyond recognition. Even if that had been a legal possibility.

Most importantly, this isn't simply the story of a musical flop, of interest to only musical theatre geeks. At the heart of Marino's story is the sad failure of many genuinely talented and creative people to communicate with each other and to work towards a common vision. While Marino wrings plenty of humour out of the many cultural and language differences between a largely British production team and his 'loud' American self (even though he's a self-declared 'Angloholic'), the real lesson about the whole affair is from the apparent reluctance or inability of individuals, including himself, to say precisely what they actually felt at the time. We can all appreciate the consequences of that.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues


Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre




The Blurb

This Yank wrote a huge musical based on Desperately Seeking Susan, featuring Blondie’s music. It opened on London’s West End ... and closed a month later. Whoops! Here’s how. 'Hilarious!' ***** (ThreeWeeks). **** 'Engrossing!' (List).