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    Saturday, April 20, 2024

    Marc Summers, being himself on stage, is in the slime time of his life

    New York — In theater, you want comedy, you want tragedy, you want pathos, and you want a plucky protagonist.

    All the more reason to put Marc Summers’ life story on stage. Which also means slime is involved.

    “The Life & Slimes of Marc Summers,” which premiered last month off-Broadway at New World Stages, is part game show and part memoir, as it tracks the career and life of Summers, whose Wikipedia entry reads like a who’s who of TV over the last four decades. There’s even audience participation.

    Summers is best known for hosting the famously messy Nickelodeon kiddie game show “Double Dare” and dissecting the inner workings of food on the Food Network’s “Unwrapped” before becoming producer of such Food Network unscripted hits as “Dinner: Impossible” and “Restaurant: Impossible.” Interspersed were bouts with cancer, a car crash on I-95 in Philadelphia that left him with broken bones in his face, and a confrontation with his own obsessive-compulsive disorder — an ironic twist for a man who was regularly drenched in slime on “Double Dare.”

    At 72 — gray but lean and peppy — he seems to have a lot of life and slimes left.

    He grew up in Indianapolis craving fame and admiring the TV work of folks like Soupy Sales. Early on, he was a magician, disc jockey and comedian. Back then, he was Marc Berkowitz, taking “Summers” to avoid being linked with David Berkowitz, the serial killer known as “Son of Sam.”

    Summers was in his early 30s with a wife, two young children, and a lucrative business selling smoked salmon when a ventriloquist friend told him that he had turned down an audition to host a show on a network called Nickelodeon. Summers went instead and landed the hosting role on “Double Dare.”

    Summers’ Philadelphia stories

    This brought Summers to Philadelphia in 1986. (Why Philadelphia? “Nickelodeon at the time didn’t have any money and didn’t want to spend any money, and public broadcasting station WHYY wanted to get into the production business,” Summers said.)

    “Double Dare” — featuring announcer John Harvey and stage assistant Robin Marella Russo, whose daughter Casey Rae Russo has the same role in “Life & Slimes” — spawned a series of tween-oriented game shows. It moved to New York for 65 episodes of the spinoff “Super Sloppy Double Dare” before returning to Philadelphia and making its final jump in 1989 to the new Nickelodeon Studios in Orlando, Florida.

    Summers moved to Philadelphia around 2005 on the other side of the cameras, as executive producer of the Food Network show “Dinner: Impossible” and its spinoff, “Restaurant: Impossible.”

    “The food aspect of Philadelphia just blew me away, and the people were just so nice,” Summers said. “They just kind of took you under their arm and said, ‘Hey, let’s hang out.’”

    The WMMR morning show “Preston & Steve” made him a quasi-regular. “We just hit it off immediately,” Preston Elliot said. “He was just really easy to talk to, and a great interview with lots of wonderful stories.”

    Elliot attributed Summers’ Philadelphia appeal to what he called his “instant likability. At the same time, he’s got a sharp point of view to share. He does not hold back.”

    Not an overnight success

    “Life & Slimes” can be traced to summer 2011 at the Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven, New Jersey. As a lark, Summers was playing Vince Fontaine in a production of “Grease.” He met Drew Gasparini, an actor-musician who had a bit role as Eugene. “I would ask him all these showbiz stories,” Gasparini said. “The man has done it all.”

    Gasparini introduced Summers to his friend, actor Alex Brightman (“Beetlejuice,” “School of Rock”). Gasparini and Brightman began working on a script. “Life & Slimes” has knocked around since 2016, when a version was produced at the Bloomington Playwrights Project in Bloomington, Indiana. The inception also spawned a documentary film, “On Your Marc.”

    The show was a sales flop at Gretna Theatre in central Pennsylvania in 2017. “I was performing in a 700-seat theater with 50 people a night and it was depressing,” Summers said. “I was going to cancel Buffalo (the next stop) and say, ‘You know what? Nobody cares about Marc Summers or my story. Let’s just shut this thing down.’”

    But director Chad Rabinovitz was optimistic, and he was correct.

    “Buffalo killed it,” Summers said. That’s also where it got its big break.

    In the audience one night was Stephen Edlund, who directed the touring production of “Mrs. Doubtfire.” “After our show, Steve came backstage and said, ‘This is amazing. Have you ever thought about doing it in New York?’”

    In 24 hours, Summers was in touch with producer Lisa Dozier Shacket. “In four weeks, we’re signing contracts to come and do this show,” Summers said. “I’m the luckiest human on the planet.”

    After the last performance, now scheduled for June 2, its future is unclear. Of course, there is interest in putting it on the road.

    “I have to ask myself at this point in my life, after having toured the Nickelodeon show for years, do I have the capability at 72 to even do that?” Summers said. “Part of it is, do I want to be away from my wife and family for that long? And yet, there’s a certain thrill about it.”

    Asked what he hasn’t done that he really needs to do, he replied:

    “To be on Broadway. We’re one step away.”

    Must-see Marc Summers TV

    Marc Summers’ fight with actor Burt Reynolds during a 1994 taping of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” was unscripted and one of the most surreal bits of late-night TV of all time.

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