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The Life & Slimes of Marc Summers

In a new Off-Broadway show, a former kid's game show host recounts his decent and slimy life.

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Marc Summers in a scene from Alex Brightman’s “The Life & Slimes of Marc Summers” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

Older millennials and youngish Gen-Xers form the main nostalgic nexus for The Life & Slimes of Marc Summers, a cradle-to-Off-Broadway memoir that stars the long-time television personality himself. Boomers and the rest may only know Summers from his gigs on the Food Network, most notably as the frontman for Unwrapped, a paint-by-numbers, infomercial-style program amiably committed to the notion that what you eat should ideally come from a factory. But for a lot of aging latchkey children, he will forever be remembered as the ironically dapper host of the inventively messy kid’s game show Double Dare whose original run roughly coincided with George H.W. Bush’s presidency and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Along with 16-bit Nintendo, the animated melodrama of the ThunderCats, and, perhaps, a tragically unrequited crush on Ione Skye, Summers helped the young fans of Double Dare construct and sustain a silly mental shield against reality. Unfortunately, Summers reveals that his own boyhood start in Indianapolis (that not so toddlin’ town) came with a hard-wired imagination that, over the course of his life, has been more of an adversary than a protector. It’s a battle the now 72-years-old Summers didn’t even realize he was fighting until well into adulthood, only then learning there was a clinical name for his intrusive thoughts and behavior: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The revelation happened while Summers was interviewing a psychiatrist for a segment on his decidedly more grown-up, post-Double Dare talk show on the Lifetime channel, leading to an impromptu and very public disclosure of his neurological condition that immediately resulted in a lot of media attention. Much of that was exploitative and, ultimately, cost him job opportunities due to discrimination. It took years for Summers to get back on track professionally, closing out the previous century with an updated version of Double Dare and kicking off the new one with his bigger comeback on the Food Network.

Marc Summers in a scene from Alex Brightman’s “The Life & Slimes of Marc Summers” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

Christopher Rhoton’s Double Dare-inspired set belies these weightier autobiographical details, offering enough of a time-warping simulacrum to help middle-aged members of the audience shed a few decades when Summers interrupts his fraught remembering to twice become a kid’s game show host again. Those who legibly scribble their names on a piece of paper dropped into a fishbowl before the performance, eventually get the chance to head onstage (not sure if mezzanine ticket buyers are eligible), answer trivia questions, and launch pies on a catapult (a warning for the first few rows). Amid all the cheers, laughter, and chaotic fun, there’s also an opportunity for the quick-witted Summers to go off-script, asking the theatergoers-turned-contestants trite questions like “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” to set up a slightly mischievous back-and-forth. Of course, curiosity will always abound at his possible response to the answer, “I’m here to review The Life & Slimes of Marc Summers.”

Writer Alex Brightman–better known for leading parts in Broadway musicals like School of Rock and Beetlejuice–provides Summers with his unimprovised words, which adequately condense a necessarily select amount of living into whatever remains in the production’s 90-minute run time after the game-show interludes. Among the visions from the past, there are gentle comic portrayals of a few people important to Summers, including his mother and wife. Summers, however, is let off the hook when it comes to being anyone other than himself, thanks to some secret assistance. This support is not a slight, since Summers charmingly lets us know he is well aware of his own theatrical limitations from an abortive acting career that simultaneously began and ended with a failed early attempt to win a role in Bye Bye Birdie.

Marc Summers and members of the audience in a scene from Alex Brightman’s “The Life & Slimes of Marc Summers” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

Unburdening Summers also provides a narrative benefit to Brightman and director Chad Rabinovitz who use their clandestine helper to creatively dramatize OCD as an unrelenting stalker, filling a person’s mind with the overwhelming fear that refusing to repetitively complete meaningless tasks will have dire consequences, especially for loved ones. It’s been a dark tunnel for Summers, elongated by other health challenges, that genre expectations say should come with a concluding light that he’s already entered. But OCD isn’t a rear-view-mirror sort of problem.

While Summers doesn’t downplay what he’s endured, or suggest that it’s totally behind him, there is a sense that he’s holding back some of the more difficult details of his life for the sake of a positive outlook. But that’s less a criticism than an observation. Accompanied by Drew Gasparini’s often buoyant original music, Summers is clearly both doing all he can to smile through his troubles and trying to defend against anxiety with gratitude. It’s easy to root for him, as well as everyone in need of his example.

The Life & Slimes of Marc Summers (through June 2, 2024)

New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit

Running time: one hour and 30 minutes without an intermission

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