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Desperately Seeking Susan

Published 17 April 2008

New Yorker Peter Michael Marino came up with the unusual concept of combining the story of Desperately Seeking Susan – that 1985 cult film in which Madonna was quite good – with the songs of New Wave band Blondie to create a new musical theatre production which opened at the Novello last night. Curious as to how The Tide Is High would fit into that storyline, Caroline Bishop went along to find out…

The film of Desperately Seeking Susan starred Rosanna Arquette as bored New Jersey housewife Roberta Glass and Madonna as the city girl with attitude, Susan. Fascinated by the personal ads placed by Susan and her boyfriend Jay, and itching for some excitement in her life, Roberta follows the pair as they meet at their arranged rendez-vous. A few mix-ups and a bump on the head later, and amnesiac Roberta thinks she is Susan – and so does the mobster determined to retrieve the precious earrings nicked by Susan from a former lover.

Perhaps, on listening to Blondie’s greatest hits, it was the song Heart Of Glass that lit the lightbulb in Marino’s head – Glass, of course, being the surname of Roberta and her husband. And so, in this new stage musical, Heart Of Glass becomes the song Roberta sings when bemoaning the passionless state of her marriage to jacuzzi salesman Gary. As the plot thickens, Blondie’s cracking tunes are intertwined in a similar manner: Dreaming is a lament by both girls, each wishing for different things; boyfriend Jay is Hanging On The Telephone to Susan while touring with his band; the evil mobster is gonna getcha getcha getcha (Roberta, that is) One Way Or Another.

They may not be musical theatre songs, but it is certainly satisfying to hear them played with a live band and the strong vocals of the two leads – Emma Williams as the sassy and slightly scary Susan, and Kelly Price the soft-focused nice girl Roberta. Alec Newman as Roberta’s love interest Dez, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as Maria and Steven Houghton as mobster Alex Verne also get a crack at a Blondie song, while comic moments are provided by Leanne Best as Gary’s sister Leslie and Kaisa Hammarlund as Crystal. All are helped by some great late-70s costumes and an effective New York apartment block set by Tim Hatley – with liberal use of treadmills to recreate chase scenes.

It is a convoluted plot, but, as you know if you have seen the film, it all works out in the end, and something of that warm fuzzy feeling that pervades the end of many a West End musical is generated by a song that brings all the characters together, The Tide Is High.

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