Peter Michael Marino is an actor, writer, director and comedian who is most famous for the West End flop Desperately Seeking Susan. Original from New York, he’s a self-proclaimed “angloholic” who can currently be seen at the Leicester Square Theatre performing his hilarious one-man show Desperately Seeking the Exit about the highs and (mostly) lows of writing a West End musical.
by Domenico Sansalone | 16th May 2013
We caught up with him to chat about everything from working with Debbie Harry (the highs!) to struggling with depression following the closure of his show.
GAY UK: So you’re a native New Yorker! Tell us about what it was like growing up in the Big Apple?
PMM: Hectic! But the good kind of hectic! I can’t imagine living anywhere else … except London, of course. Best thing about living in NYC is being exposed to so much theatre, art, music, culture, and style. It’s stimulating on a daily basis.
GAY UK: Did you always know you wanted to work in the theatre?
PMM: I did. But I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the theatre. I studied lighting design then set design, then directing, then acting … I just liked it all. I wound up doing a lot of acting, improvisation, cabaret and then voice over work for commercials and cartoons. Then I did STOMP for five years Off-Broadway and on tour in South America. But all along I was writing and doing writing coaching.
GAY UK: Do you prefer acting or directing?
PMM: Directing for sure. I think there is more opportunity for collaboration as a director since you are working with every member of the team. I admire actors, and somehow with EXIT I’ve wound up being an actor again; but the show has more of a stand-up/improvisation/storytelling feel than a typical one-man show.
GAY UK: I remember at the launch party for Desperately Seeking you gave a speech where you said you got the idea for the musical at the dentist office?
PMM: What? I don’t even remember that. The press launch was so overwhelming. I actually recreate how I came up with the idea in the first 3-minutes of EXIT … and it’s … well, I think you can say I was aided by an herb. (laughs)
GAY UK: I suppose you couldn’t really say that at a press launch! What was it like writing the show and putting it all together?
PMM: Writing a show is rewriting. It’s a collaborative effort to put on any show and somehow our team didn’t really find the best way to collaborate. Again, this is all in EXIT, but I enjoy writing and rewriting and seeing how the actors take the words and make them their own. One of the difficulties of writing SUSAN for a London audience were all the American cultural references - which for one reason or another, I had to either cut or change all the time. Weird since so many American shows work so well over here with very little change from the Broadway productions.
GAY UK: What was it like working with Debbie Harry?
PMM: She is enigmatic, smart, reliable and unbelievable.
GAY UK: Why did you choose to open the show in the West End instead of New York?
PMM: Not my choice. It just worked out that way since the original Tony Award-winning director insisted on opening it here. Then he left the show and by that point we had the Old Vic on board as co-producers. Blondie is huge over here and also it seems like London likes those jukebox musicals an awful lot. Oh, well. You live and learn, right?
GAY UK: Tell us about where you think things went wrong?
PMM: I could, but then I would be giving away my entire show! We are having a Q&A after the show on Sunday and members of the original cast of SUSAN will be there to fill everyone in on when they thought it all went wrong. We did one 2 weeks ago and it was fascinating to see they all had the same answer. Naturally, my answer is different since I saw what was going on behind the scenes. Crazy stuff – this theatre business.
GAY UK: If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently?
PMM: Everything. Do you know of a time machine I might hop on? I just topped up my Oyster Card.
GAY UK: The cast were pros, I went to a show after it was announced that it was closing and I remember the chorus still giving it 110%. Have you worked with any of them since?
PMM: I wish. I would cast them all again if I could. We are all great friends and they have all become great friends with each other. They stay with me in NYC and I stay with them when I come here to London. We were so lucky to have such a talented and committed cast, crew and band. And they’ve all gone on to great roles since. Thrilled for them.
GAY UK: How did you cope with the show closing?
PMM: I went into a depression and barely left my flat in Manhattan for a year. It was very painful.
GAY UK: How did it affect your personal life?
PMM: I almost gave up on show biz completely and started to look into other fields to work in. But I was so depressed and humiliated and disappointed that I had a hard time seeing any light at the end of the tunnel. Luckily, there was a light and it all worked out well. Going through that experience made me a stronger person as well.
GAY UK: When did you get the idea to write a show about a failed show?
PMM: About 2 years ago I was reading the blog that I kept during the process. I made me laugh and I thought it would be fun to share the story for anyone who worked in the theatre. What happened with Desperately Seeking the Exit, was it touched and entertained people who aren’t even theatre people!
GAY UK: What was the process for putting together Desperately Seeking the Exit?
PMM: John Clancy (my director) and I got together a few times a week for a few months and went over my “script” and played around with it – keeping it technically very simple and also making the performance feel very stand-up-comedy. We’ve always wanted to work together. John has won multiple awards in Edinburgh and that was the goal with Desperately seeking the Exit. We thought we had a small, under-the-radar show, but then it just blew up and now here I am in London. The story has come full circle.
GAY UK: Audiences seem to love it (see The Gay UK review)! Where have you had the best audience?
PMM: The audiences in NYC are different from Edinburgh which are totally different from the crowds in Adelaide to the Leicester Square crowds. Even the Brighton crowds are different … and luckily the show is flexible enough to work with whatever kind of audience is there. A show for 10 is different than a show for 60 and I’ve had both!
GAY UK: Has Desperately Seeking the Exit led to other jobs?
PMM: It has led to other opportunities- and in this business, that’s pretty good. There is talk of a book and a possible TV thing. Don’t want to jinx anything. Do you have a job for me?!
GAY UK: What advice would you give to aspiring writers and producers?
PMM: Go with your gut. Be professional. Say what’s on your mind. Be respectful. Never give up.
GAY UK: What’s next for Peter?
PMM: Back to NYC where I am directing two more shows. Writing a new character-comedy show that I’m doing in NY in the fall. Creating a solo comedy festival of sorts and getting some rest before the show returns to Edinburgh this summer. I love that place. And what a great way to wrap it all up.
Catch Peter Michael Marino in Desperately Seeking the Exit at the Leicester Square Theatre until Monday 20th May. For tickets please visit (http://leicestersquaretheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows/873490457/events?TSLVq=89aa2184-526d-4c74-9c73-bc6eef5f6aa6&TSLVp=25798589-9f91-42bb-89e2-f49e4c9984ae&TSLVts=1368696175&TSLVc=ticketsolve&TSLVe=leicestersquare&TSLVrt=Safetynet&TSLVh=e75e43a4cdcc20cef8c40a2d02868c8b)
He will also be appearing at The Counting House in Edinburgh Fringe Festival from 2nd- 25th August. For tickets please visit (https://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/desperately-seeking-the-exit-free-festival)
Details about the show can be found at www.SeekingTheExit.com
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