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Desperately Seeking the Exit

When big West End shows die on their arses, critics tend to have the

last word. But perhaps there’s a need for a new type of theatre coroner, someone whose job is not just to pronounce creative death, but to rigorously investigate its cause.

In this solo comedy show, American Peter Michael Marino undertakes just such an autopsy on his own musical, ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’.

Culture carrion crows may remember this as the £3.5m attempt to crowbar the music of Blondie into the plot of Madonna’s 1985 film of the same name, which premiered at the Novello in 2007 and folded just two weeks after its star-studded opening night in a field day for the newspaper pun writers.

Marino seizes immediate responsibility as the idealistic, inexperienced librettist who conceived the show during a ‘magical bong hit’ ('Heart of Glass': Roberta Glass) and paid for it when his childhood dreams drowned in sweat, tears and haemorrhoidal blood. Some blame also goes to the choreographer who ‘made the tiny moments huge’ and the director who ‘made the huge moments tiny’.

But ‘Exit’ is mostly arrestingly an insight into the sheer, mind-boggling lunacy of the decisions powerful people will make when they’re desperate, or simply tickled. There’s a hilarious moment of mounting hysteria when Marino realises Patrick Marber is being considered as an 11-hour script consultant. And is it a coincidence that the first producer to sign on is called Susan?

Mindful of simply bitching, Marino has crafted a cautionary tale that’s more about cultural than personal difference. If this Yankee-in-tea-land diagnosis feels a little too insistent in places, it’s borne out by a happy ending you couldn’t write. ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ may have bombed in Britain, but it went big in Japan.

Bella Todd

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