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Desperately Seeking the Exit

In 2007, writer, performer, and Buffalo State alumnus Peter Michael Marino created a musical version of the 1985 film, Desperately Seeking Susan. The show played a successful run in Tokyo and was announced for a London production to be directed by Joe Mantello, who directed Wicked. It seemed that a fairy tale was about to come true for Marino.

If only life were so simple.

The film has been an iconic 1980s hit, starring Rosanna Arquette as Roberta, a New Jersey housewife who unwittingly takes on the identity of Susan, a Bohemian stranger played by Madonna. When Roberta reads messages in the personals section of a newspaper from someone who is “desperately seeking Susan,” she shows up for a rendezvous in Battery Park, and ends up on an odyssey involving mistaken identity, amnesia, and the a pair of stolen earrings. For the stage musical, Marino employed music by Blondie to propel this madcap caper.

Before the show opened, Mantello bailed out. The new director banned Marino from the rehearsal hall for three weeks. When he finally saw his show, it was notably altered in tone.

Critics savaged the production.

Charles Spencer of the Telegraph opined that “discerning theatregoers will be desperately seeking the nearest exit.” The $6 million show closed in a month, and was the most celebrated flop of the season.

This experience inspired Marino to write his comic one-man show, Desperately Seeking the Exit, which was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival and in London. He will perform the show in Buffalo this week, Friday, October 18 at 7pm, in the Donald Savage Theatre at Buffalo State, and Sunday, October 20 at 4pm, at Allen Street Hardware (245 Allen Street).

Despite all the heartache and humiliation, Marino continued to try to move the production along toward redemption in New York. It was a New York City story, after all. As I speak to him by telephone, he has just received his latest disappointment: Through her representative, Debby Harry of Blondie has just withdrawn the use of her music.

“I don’t want to disparage Blondie,” says Marino. “Of course this is disappointing for me. She has her reasons, I’m sure.”

For all Marino’s protests to the contrary, his one-man show is reportedly a gossipy evening, replete with amusing backstage anecdotes and footage of the original musical.

Marino has transformed his pain into merriment. “I’m glad to bring my story back to Buffalo, where my career journey began” he enthuses.