Album Review: Desperately Seeking Susan (London Cast)

“One way or another I’m gonna lose ya”

There’s something perverse about wanting to have been there for shows that have been deemed a flop, to see if it really was that bad (in Too Close To The Sun’s case, it really was, and worse) or more often than not, just discover that they’re not really working that well (c.f. any number of big title musicals of recent years). Arriving late 2007, Desperately Seeking Susan came at a time when I still only saw a couple of shows a month and so I didn’t get witness its full glory before it closed a scant month after opening.

Much like double denim, its twin hit of 80s classics was a lot to take: an adaptation of the 1985 film starring Rosanna Arquette and Madonna with a soundtrack of Blondie songs bolted on for good measure. By all accounts it was a troubled mixture, as evidenced by its early closure but listening to the soundtrack, there is at least the bonus of not having to figure out how the book (by Peter Michael Marino) fits in. What’s left is the jukebox selection of Debbie Harry’s band’s finest tracks (plus a few others), performed by a well-meaning cast.

I say well-meaning because they are largely ill-suited to the task of wrestling Blondie’s iconic eclectic style into the world of musical theatre. Emma Williams is a fantastic singer but her strengths lie in a classic purity rather than the downbeat punkiness of Susan – her ‘Rapture’ sounds amazing but entirely wrong for the purpose – and likewise Kelly Price’s Roberta always sounds too good, too clean, to convince on the Lower East Side – she delivers probably the best enunciated ‘Heart of Glass’ there ever has been. Neither are helped by a series of arrangements that don’t always play to the songs’ strengths. 

Oddly enough, it is two male covers that stand out as the show’s best. Steven Houghton’s ‘One Way or Another’ injects a wealth of creepy personality into its stalkerish vibe and then Mark McGee’s rough-edged but wonderfully raucous ‘Hanging on the Telephone’ brings the one authentic note of punk in the entire score. It’s interesting to see such familiar names as Alex Gaumond, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and Kaisa Hammarlund in the ensemble and try and pick out their contributions but by and large it is not terribly hard to see why the show didn’t work even from the music alone. 

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