How to write a West End flop
Published: 27th Jul 2012 02:45:12
Five years ago, a West End musical married the story of Madonna's 1985 film Desperately Seeking Susan with the music of Blondie. It flopped - but its creator has now turned the debacle into a one-man comedy show.
Newspaper headline writers had a field day after the press night for Desperately Seeking Susan at London's Novello Theatre.
"Desperately seeking the excitement between songs" (Evening Standard); "Desperate for the curtain" (Sunday Times); "Desperately dull Susan" (Mail on Sunday); "Susan has me desperately seeking the exit" (Daily Telegraph).
The reviews were scathing and critics and readers like little more than bringing those with ill-conceived ideas and inflated egos down a peg or two.
The musical lost a reported £3.5m and lasted four just weeks, during which an average of 200 people saw each performance at the 1,100-capacity theatre.
One of those headlines has been imprinted on the brain of the show's creator Peter Michael Marino ever since, and Desperately Seeking The Exit has become the title for a show in which he sends up his misadventure while ruefully picking over the ruins.
"It's been five years since the show crashed and burned and changed my entire life," Marino says.
"I think there's something inherently funny in a regular guy trying to achieve something without having the tools or the ability and failing. That's often pretty funny for other people."
While most people would have erased such an episode from their CVs, Marino has performed this one-man spin-off, which receives its UK premiere in Manchester on Monday before moving to the Edinburgh Fringe.
It may be a one-hour act of tongue-in-cheek self-flagellation, but it is also a chance for Marino to give his side of the story.
The idea for the original musical was hatched when Marino, an actor and writer, was "sitting around with a buddy getting stoned" with Blondie on the stereo, he says.
He had always loved Desperately Seeking Susan, a screwball comedy that starred Madonna and Rosanna Arquette.
Realising that the film and Blondie hailed from roughly the same era, that the film was set in the lower east side of Manhattan, where Blondie were discovered, and that "Susan" was from New Jersey, just like Blondie singer Debbie Harry, Marino put the two together.
"It just made perfect sense," he says. After three months writing a script, the response to initial read-throughs was "fantastic from everybody," Marino says.
One major West End producer even warned him: "This is going to be a big hit, I hope you're ready."
Marino's show was to be called Desperate! and he says he used the movie as "an inspiration more than a blueprint".
The way he tells it, the idea was sound and the egos were under control but the director, choreographer, designer and Marino himself had incompatible artistic visions.
He adds: "We had British producers and American producers, and there was some conflict in how to sell the show. Before I knew it, it was just Desperately Seeking Susan again.
"It was not Desperate! It wasn't really this original script so much as this almost word-for-word adaptation of the film.
"When you transfer something to the stage you have to raise the stakes. And I think the problem was the show was just played a little bit too safe.
"The film, to me, is like a rainy Sunday afternoon thing and what I wanted to create was a hot, steamy Saturday night thing. And we kinda just wound up getting a Sunday morning hangover thing."
I confess to him that I did not see the musical. "No-one saw it!" he laughs. He is joking about the debacle in his new show, but he was also clearly hurt by the experience.
"It was terrible to read the reviews," Marino says.
"It was a star-studded opening night and a fantastic party. Then the next morning you're completely hung over, open up your computer and see headlines like 'Desperately Seeking The Exit', 'Desperately Avoiding Closure', 'Desperately Seeking Success'.
"It's terrible. It's terrible. Especially since 25 of my family and friends flew over to see the show."
Does he now accept that the show was as bad as the critics said it was? "I would say that the production was almost as unthrilling as many of the reviews said," he concedes.
After the press night, Marino went into "this horrible depression, which lasted a year", he says.
The clouds began to lift after Desperately Seeking Susan was staged in Tokyo in 2009 and Marino realised that, given the right creative climate, it could work.
After reading back through the blog he wrote while making the musical and endlessly recounting anecdotes to friends, he realised he had a story to tell.
"I hope that this show gives other artists, or anybody who has any sort of dream or goal, the courage to know that you can do it," he says. "If it fails, you can get back up again and you can turn your rotten tomatoes into bloody marys."
Desperately Seeking The Exit is at the Taurus Bar in Manchester on Monday and Tuesday. It is at Edinburgh City Football Club from Thursday to 27 August.
At 14:01:04 in EnglandWork to protect the "largest undefended floodplain in England" could begin within three years, a report has said.
At 13:59:19 in SportRedruth coach Ashley Morcom says his side need to reproduce the form they showed in Saturday's 22-17 win over Canterbury for the rest of the season.
At 13:52:35 in EnglandA 37-year-old man who was extradited to the UK from Hungary has been charged with sex trafficking offences.
At 13:49:11 in Northern IrelandNew computer-based assessments of primary school pupils between 2012 and 2013 were fraught with problems, according to a review.
At 13:47:00 in HeadlinesThe families of the 191 people killed in the Madrid train bombings have attended a ceremony with Spain's King Juan Carlos to mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
At 13:43:16 in Northern IrelandA video released by Ulster Rugby featuring Irish international Willie John McBride has received a tongue-in-cheek response from a rival team.
At 13:39:37 in EnglandA dog in Northamptonshire has become the 13th to die in the UK from "Alabama Rot" since December, the Forestry Commission has confirmed.
At 13:32:59 in HeadlinesMilitary radar suggests the missing Malaysia Airlines plane turned west, away from its planned route, before vanishing, Malaysia's air force says.
At 13:32:32 in SportWales forwards coach Robin McBryde says they are "not looking outside the squad for any answers" ahead of Saturday's Six Nations match with Scotland and following the 29-18 defeat by England .
At 13:31:49 in EnglandA man has been charged with the murder of a six-year-old girl who collapsed at a property in south London.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. How to write a West End flop [Online] (Updated 27th Jul 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1442985/How-to-write-a-West-End-flop [Accessed 11th Mar 2014]
News In Other Categories
With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
The number of children with mental health problems being treated on adult wards in England is rising, according to new data.
The insurance regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), has promised to crack down on so-called "add-on" policies.
New computer-based assessments of primary school pupils between 2012 and 2013 were fraught with problems, according to a review.
US President Barack Obama has followed in the footsteps of Justin Bieber and Bradley Cooper, after being interviewed by comedian Zach Galifianakis for his spoof chat show Between Two Ferns.
The BBC has unveiled an update to its on-demand iPlayer service, which will include new online-only shows for "a BBC Three audience".