Peter Michael Marino once got hit in the face with a garbage can in Stomp — but that was nothing compared to the damage caused by his first musical.
The musical he wrote based on the film “Desperately Seeking Susan” featured the music of Blondie. It was a bomb on the West End — a six million dollar bomb. The review in the Guardian was headlined “Desperately Seeking Susan + Blondie = a painful performance.” It closed after a month.
Jonathan Mandell: You’re the second person I’ve talked to this week who’s turned what seems to be a personal public humiliation into a one-man show. Is this following the Lenny Bruce dictum, “Pain + time = humor”?
Peter Michael Marino: Lenny had it right. Believe me, the first draft of the show was called “F*ck London.” It was me placing blame, being sad and mad, and getting all uppity.
After I put that angry/sad/bitter script away for a few years, I approached it with the fresh point of view of someone who survived it. I took some of Anna Deavere Smith’s advice about solo shows by “making the past present.” I wrote about what I was feeling during the experience, and not what I was feeling as a result of the experience. I wanted the audience to laugh at my naivete.
So how did you come to write a musical based on Desperately Seeking Susan? And where did you get ahold of six million dollars for it?
In 2005 I was listening to Blondie’s greatest hits, noted they wrote “want songs”, watched the movie Desperately Seeking Susan, and thought the two properties really complimented each other. Then I dove into analyzing both sources, wrote a detailed 30-page treatment, dropped it onto a Broadway producer’s desk, and she loved it. Within a month we had a Tony award winning director, producers from the West End, Blondie’s approval and the rights from MGM. Poof. Money.
Was this a shock? A fluke? Luck and timing? A just reward for a good idea?
It didn’t feel like a total shock. It felt like, “Well, this is supposed to be happening. This idea is good and so are the source materials. My time has come! Yay!”
What had been your career up to that point?
Yeah. There are eight performers in the show, and one of them is the “funny guy” called Mozzie. That was me. That track has less drumming than the other roles, but still plenty of it, and a bunch of wordless solo comedy stuff that relied on the audience’s response. The whole show is based on specific counts and eights and stuff, so the challenge was to remember if you flicked your Zippo lighter on the “one-and” or the “six-and-a…” If you mess up your counts in a big number you can very well get hit in the face with a garbage can and split your lip open. Which I did. Luckily, I was playing the funny guy that night. And it was in Canada. So it was funny.