The story so far: Peter Michael Marino, an American actor whose IMDb listing runs to just one credit, as the 45th-named cast member of an unmemorable Spike Lee straight-to-video movie, was at home one night sedating his unemployed disillusions with dope. Through the bong cloud’s haze he visualized a stage musical of the Madonna/Rosanna Arquette caper movie Desperately Seeking Susan set to a soundtrack of the Blondie/Debbie Harry back catalogue, largely on the grounds that both had a similar genesis of New York in the 80s.

To no-one’s greater surprise than his own, particularly as he had no musical-writing credentials, the producers, the permissions and the money came together with the ease and speed of Max Bialystock’s ingenious loss-making project Springtime for Hitler, but despite the collective £4 million backing of MGM and the Old Vic, without its success.

After a tortuous year of try-outs and rehearsal, the show opened at the Novello Theatre to a gleeful torrent of savaging reviews and rare unanimity among the broadsheets that it was a turkey of gigantic proportions: Charlie Spencer in the Telegraph topping the chorus of disapproval with the tagline “Desperately Seeking The Exit”, and the closing notices were posted immediately.

For sure, this is a good story. Marino tells it with refreshing candour as a succession of comic anecdotes, although from only one viewpoint. He catalogues the failure in detail and blames, variously, the fact that most of the production team weren’t gay, that none of the British creatives understood American geographical or conversational references, that subscribers to online theatre discussion boards had it in for him, and that the director, choreographer and script consultants were inept.

Actually, I did laugh out loud when playwright Patrick Marber was approached to tinker with the script and said “first you have to do something about the man down the front waving his arms about, it’s distracting” – the conductor. There’s a good joke about Sonia Friedman, too, but she’s far too formidable for me to repeat it here.

Whilst often engagingly funny, because most of the participants royally slagged off are British, on our home turf it can come across as a little churlish: he particularly ridicules director Angus Jackson for a “total” lack of empathy with stage musicals, despite the fact that Jackson had just directed Carousel at Chichester. His own countrymen fare slightly better, but he derides choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (who recovered sufficiently to win a Tony for In The Heightsthe following year) and alleges the venerable producer of the original Angels in America, Susan Gallin, nagged him for a character name change because it was the same as her ex-partner’s.

Interspersing the allocations of blame, Marino keeps up a sprightly commentary on the differences between Yanks and Brits: his neatly-mimed gay-bar pickup routines in pursuit of a “snog” or a “shag” are hilarious, but the soft targets of tea-drinking, using “sorry” and “alright” as conversational fillers, texting rather than phoning and calling an ATM “the hole in the wall” have already been riffed by smarter and funnier comedians.

This show had an airing last year as part of the Edinburgh Festival Free Fringe, and as an hour or so’s diversion it’s enjoyable enough, although I’d prefer a later start time and a chance to down a couple of drinks beforehand.

And possibly a toke on his bong.

With the news of the closure of the Spice Girls Musical, Viva Forever, DSE producers Kps Productions have decided to offer a special discount of £9 tickets, instead of £12.50, to anyone who presents their Viva ticket stub at the Leicester Square Box Office.

Date reviewed: Tuesday 30th April 2013
Image © John Yabrifa 

One Stop ArtsOriginally published on One Stop Arts.