With the West End under attack from second rate film adaptations and jukebox raiding parties, the new musical Desperately Seeking Susan manages to inflict yet another wound on the theatre-going public. Combined with the Blondie song catalog, the 1985 film is brought to a stage in a shallow, wasteful production.
The primary blame lies with book writer and conceptualist Peter Michael Marino, who gives us cliched dialogue and an utter lack of character depth or development: We don’t care that housewife Roberta Glass (Kelly Price) is bored with yuppie husband Gary (Jonathan Wrather), and her path of self discovery through the world of renegade Susan (Emma Williams) is shallow due to a subplot involving a jewel heist. When a key scene comes for Roberta to leave Gary for new lover Dez (Alex Newman), there is no emotion from the script or Angus Jackson’s direction.
It’s a pity, because the idea to integrate Blondie’s music isn’t entirely bad: most of the numbers serve the plot, but given the low standards they need to perform to, that’s not hard. Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography lacks the music’s excitement, though the band were playing in full force. The cast are adequate with the material they’re given, but the book holds them back. The only exception is Ms. Williams, owning the stage with attitude, pizzaz, and a voice to match.
Even the designs are disappointing - Tim Hatley’s set fails to capture 1979 New York, and the encore features a hideous yet giant striped PVC curtain, covering a portion of the stage before running floor to ceiling, with a neon heart finishing off the job. Hatley’s costumes fare better, though who wants to remember 1970s fashion? Hugh Vanstone’s lighting is serviceable, but uninspired, and for a show with two sound designers (Bobby Aitken and Brian Beasley), why couldn’t I hear half the lyrics?
Overall, Desperately Seeking Susan is a pallid attempt to cash in on 80’s nostalgia which lacks the performances of The Wedding Singer or the joyous camp factor of Broadway’s new adaptation of Xanadu.
Where: Novello Theatre
When: M-Th @ 8PM, F @ 5PM & 8:30 PM, Sa @ 3PM & 8PM
Concessions: The usual suspects get 50% off best remaining stalls 60 min. prior to curtain.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £0. If you can get free tickets and you’re a Blondie fan, you may find value in this show. Otherwise, avoid it or you'll be desperately seeking a refund.
RZ Other Notes: The RZ enjoys a good train wreck as much as anyone (one of his favourite shows of all time is Broadway megaflop In My Life), but Desperately Seeking Susan lacks the shock, camp, or otherwise amazement value of a truly awful production. Rather, it is mediocrity at its worst: a bland and soulless production that leaves little to no impression.