Unleashing the Spotlight on Extraordinary Talents.
www.talentsofworld.com | Talentsofworld Articles

Marc Summers Is Still Up for a Double Dare. (Hold the Green Slime.)

Rehearsing at a studio space in Times Square earlier this month, Marc Summers was crouched low, engaged in a conversation with God. Such scenes are staples of one-person shows like the kind that Summers is bringing to Off Broadway, but his arch tone suggested he wasn’t approaching this existential moment too earnestly.

“What is my purpose in life?” Summers called out, wondering what he should do if he encountered disappointments or impediments on his journey.

A booming, recorded voice answered that life may be full of pain and regrets, but it also offers humor and joy. “The only question,” the voice said, “is are you ready for it?”

After further contemplation, Summers answered confidently. “I think I’m ready,” he said, pausing for effect. “I think I’m ready to take the physical challenge!”

Summers is 72 with a head of mostly white and gray hair, but his toothy smile and exuberant cadence still make him easily recognizable to the generation of television viewers who were introduced to him as the host of the children’s game show “Double Dare.”

“Double Dare,” which debuted in 1986 on Nickelodeon, blended a trivia competition with outrageously messy obstacle courses. A team of two youthful contestants could dare a rival duo to field a question, but their opponents, of course, could double dare them back. In that case the original team had to either answer the question or submit to a physical challenge.

Throughout the show’s seven-year run of just over 500 episodes (which included incarnations like “Family Double Dare” and “Super Sloppy Double Dare”), Summers was there, often wearing a pastel suit or a sports jacket and jeans, encouraging players as they rummaged for flags inside a giant nose or dived headfirst into a kiddie pool of green slime.

This is a substantial part of the unpredictable showbiz career recounted in “The Life & Slimes of Marc Summers,” which opens on Feb. 22 at New World Stages, but it is not the entirety of the show.

Written by Alex Brightman, the Tony Award-nominated star of “Beetlejuice” and “School of Rock,” “Life & Slimes” also tells how Summers emerged from suburban Indianapolis, idolizing entertainers like Johnny Carson and Soupy Sales, to become a TV personality in his own right. The show chronicles how he grappled with obsessive-compulsive disorder throughout his life and battled chronic lymphocytic leukemia (which is now in remission).

Summers has gone on to host other shows on Nickelodeon, Lifetime and PBS, as well as host “Unwrapped” and produce “Dinner: Impossible” for Food Network; he is a husband (he and his wife will celebrate their 50th anniversary in June), a father of grown children and a grandfather. He is grateful that “Double Dare” helped put him on the map, though he still wonders if it will forever overshadow these other accomplishments.

A press representative from Nickelodeon did not respond to requests for comment.

On a recent visit to New York from his home on the central coast of California, Summers explained in an interview how, even in the heyday of “Double Dare,” he bristled at being described as a kids’ show host. “I used to hate that, because I was more than that,” he said.

As Nickelodeon shifted its focus to animation and tween-oriented sitcoms and dramas, Summers has felt the sting of neglect from the network. “I made Nickelodeon,” he said. “I’ll be the first to say that, and they’ve never actually said that to me. I changed that network. And nobody’s ever said thank you.”

But bringing his biographical show to Off Broadway is an achievement that Summers has found to be as satisfying as riding down a spiraling slide into a giant ice-cream sundae.

Comparing himself to a minor-league baseball player, Summers said: “I’ve always wanted to get in the majors but could never make it. I’m that guy who’s been riding the bus all those years, who got close but not quite there. And now, somehow, I’ve managed to get there.”

Over a lunchtime conversation at Joe Allen, the restaurant and theater-district hangout, Summers recalled a truism he had been told about who achieves success in the entertainment industry. “It’s the people who have lesser talent but more determination, more passion and more drive to get there,” he said. With audible self-deprecation, he added, “I never thought I had an ounce of talent.”

Even so, Summers had the moxie to become a teenage stage magician in the mid-1960s; a writer for Bob Barker on the game show “Truth or Consequences”; and a fitfully employed standup comedian in Los Angeles in the 1970s and ’80s.

When he learned about an audition in 1986 for the “Double Dare” host — from a ventriloquist friend who didn’t want the gig — Summers had been making money helping to sell a South African brand of smoked salmon to delis and warehouse retailers.

Amid an ’80s-era boom for cable TV, “Double Dare” helped establish a rebellious identity for Nickelodeon and made a star of Summers, who easily grasped why the show appealed to its target audience.

“The kids were living vicariously through their parents, watching ‘The Price Is Right,’ but they didn’t have their own game show,” he explained. “Their whole lives, they’re told, ‘stay neat, stay clean’ — now we’re rewarding them for getting messy.”

Though Summers was in his 30s and 40s at the time, he could be more like a goofy older brother to the young “Double Dare” players. He would entertain them with his impersonations of vintage Hollywood stars like Ethel Merman and Paul Lynde, and look for ways to connect with the contestants, who had been recruited largely from the Philadelphia area. (The show was initially filmed in Philadelphia, and then in Orlando after Nickelodeon opened a studio there.)

“The Philly accent, I couldn’t figure out,” Summers recalled. “I’d say what do you like doing? ‘Go downa Shore.’ Excuse me? ‘Go downa Shore.’ I’d stop tape and say, What did he just say? ‘We go down the Shore.’ I had to learn what that meant.”

Brightman, who was nine or 10 when he first met Summers at a live “Double Dare” event in San Jose, Calif., said that the host has always been motivated by a genuine curiosity about the world and the people he encounters.

“He was asking kids slightly complex but accessible questions that made them feel like friends, and not lesser than that,” Brightman said. “I thought that was a masterful quality in him.”

When he has heart-to-heart conversations with Summers now or sees him talk to other people about their lives, Brightman said: “He’s not asking because he’s performing for you. He’s genuinely interested in what you’re doing.”

As an actor, Summers has mostly been cast as himself on sitcoms and animated shows, though he made a foray into regional theater, playing Vince Fontaine in a 2011 production of “Grease” at the Surflight Theater in Beach Haven, N.J. It was there that he befriended one of his co-stars, Drew Gasparini (now a composer and lyricist whose projects include the musical adaptation of “The Karate Kid”).

Gasparini, a friend of Brightman’s, reconnected him with Summers, who proposed the idea of putting his life story on the stage. Brightman admitted to some skepticism at the time — “I think you’re interesting, but do you think that would translate to anybody else?” he recalled asking Summers.

Gradually he and Gasparini were won over by Summers’s seemingly boundless reserve of showbiz stories and the theme of endurance that ran through them.

“We found this core of a sweet, wonderful story of redemption and hope, and never saying no,” Brightman explained. “Whether he was interesting or not didn’t matter — he is — but the story became extremely interesting and personal and unique.”

Life & Slimes” evolved as the collaborators observed Summers’s strengths and proficiencies. Gasparini, who created the original music for the show, said, “We quickly pivoted from making him sing 10 songs in the show to making this a one-man play that is supported by musical motifs and themes.”

Brightman and Gasparini spent weeks interrogating Summers about his personal history, searching for material for the show. “I know when Marc Summers lost his virginity,” Gasparini confided. “That didn’t make it into the show, but I love that I know that.”

“Life & Slimes” was first produced in 2016 at the Bloomington Playwrights Project in Indiana, and has had runs at the Adirondack Theater Festival in Glens Falls, N.Y., the Mt. Gretna Playhouse in Pennsylvania, and the Alleyway Theater in Buffalo, N.Y.

Over the years, as their individual careers pulled them in different directions, the “Life & Slimes” team members said they had to find motivation in their passion to tell Summers’s story.

“This was so niche and so weird, about a quirky little corner of television and a person that not everybody has heard of,” said Brightman, who is currently starring in the Broadway revival of “Spamalot” and performing in a workshop for a stage musical adaptation of the TV series “Smash.”

But, Brightman added, “Marc’s dream is to be onstage, and there’s something about that. He’s not a young dude and he’s being brave enough to be vulnerable onstage for over an hour. To be able to give him that shot, I couldn’t imagine a better outcome for this.”

Despite the nostalgic draw that Summers and “Double Dare” offer to a certain demographic of theatergoers, no one quite knows what to expect when the show opens in New York, which Brightman called “the judgy-est place on earth for theater.”

In the rehearsal space in Times Square, Summers was working with the show’s director, Chad Rabinovitz, on one of the segments in which the host will interact directly with audience members in a recreation of a “Double Dare” contest.

The full set of the show includes a faithful recreation of the old “Double Dare” stage, including a garishly colored podium for Summers to stand behind, though the “Life & Slimes” creative team was coy about whether they had Nickelodeon’s blessing for the production. “It is not the story of Nickelodeon,” Rabinovitz said. “It’s the story of his life.”

Summers has lost none of his well-honed aptitude for playing off the unpredictability of a live crowd — onstage, if he sees a contestant with his hands in his pockets, he is liable to say, “I’d shake your hand, but I can see that you’re busy.”

As much as he appreciates the opportunity to share his personal journey with audiences, Summers said he is looking forward to engaging with them again in some old “Double Dare”-style antics and being able to relate to them, finally, as one adult to another.

“When these people get onstage, they’re orgasmic,” he said. “It’s insane to watch. So that’s fun for me. And now I can say things to them that I’ve always wanted to say to them, that I couldn’t say when they were 8 or 9. So we have a lot of fun, we really do. And we get a little messy.”


Source link
Share this article
Shareable URL
Prev Post

Valentine’s Day 2024: For Akshay Kumar And Tiger Shroff, It’s “Bromance Over Romance” This Year

Next Post

How ‘The Greatest Night in Pop’ Got the ’80s Right

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read next