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Desperate Measures

A Second life for Desperate Measures

Desperate Measures
Gary Marachek, Peter Saide, Lauren Molina, Nick Wyman, Conor Ryan, and Sarah Parnicky (Photo:Carol Rosegg)
Shows that delight audiences when they premiere at small theaters often lose something when they transfer to a larger venue. But sometimes the show transitions beautifully to a larger setting. In fact, the chance to spread its wings on a larger stage can make it even better.

When The Band's Visit transferred to Broadway it became this season's little engine that could win a Tony. Now, Librettist/lyricist Peter Kelloggg's and songwriter David Friedman's deliciously silly Shakespeare inspired Desperate Measures that premiered at the the invaluable York Theater Company's home at St. Peter's Church, has embarked on a second life at the conveniently located New World Stages' much larger Theater 4. And as was the case with The Band's Visit, this clever and tuneful little show is better than ever on the larger stage.

Yes, it's still a little show, given the cast of just six performers and a 4-piece band. But this cast is a wow! All inhabit their characters with impeccable comic timing and have vocal chops that do full justice to the ear-hugging songs and witty rhymed lyrics. The versatile musicians are well positioned upstage and more than deserves to finally become visible to take their bows.

James Mogan's set still relies on easy to move around props rather than high tech bells and whistles to propel the story through its numerous locations. Though it does now have a more Broadway-ish grandeur, it does so without losing its little show can-do flavor.

As for the one cast member who wasn't available, the new production is blessed to have Sarah Parnicky, another charmer with a gorgeous voice, to play the nun who's bound to end up in the handsome Sheriff's arms. Except for the imaginary Shakespeare interview that didn't make it into this Playbill, what I said when I saw the show last year still holds. The only thing I would add to my previous comments (re-posted just below this box) is this: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who found Measure for Measure to be the "single exception to the delightfulness of Shakespeare's plays" would certainly find plenty to be delighted with in Desperate Measures.

My review of Desperate Measures when it opened its premiere run at the York's home at St. Peter's Church

Johnny Blood, Prepare Yourself.
your Doom Is Nigh.
— The ensemble's first number announces the doomed central character's almost certain hanging. But just before the intermission they[s reunited d for the show's hilarious "bed trick" and the show stopping "In the Dark" to prove that "anything can happen in the dark,/Reason has no compass/Life is fraught with questions/Shadows leave their mark."
Measure For Measure is often dubbed as one of Shakespeare's problem plays and hardly one at the top of any list of his hit parade. Though not produced as often as juggernauts like Hamlet, Macbeth or the various Richard and Henry plays, it suddenly seems, like Willie Loman's wife demanding that "attention must be paid."

Earlier this year it received a straightforward, well acted production at Theater For a New Audience . Later this season the innovative Elevator Repair Service, best known for Gatz, their 9-hour version of The Great Gatsby, will tackle it at the Public Theater.

And now the venerable York Theater has put on a light-hearted, easy on the ear musical, renamed Desperate Measures and subtitled "Loosely based on Shakespeare's Measure For Measure." Loosely indeed! This is more "inspired by" than "adapted from". The John Doyle production of As You Like It I saw last week is an extensively cut but essentially true to the original adaptation. Desperate Measures does feature a hilarious "bed trick" (a plot device dating back to the Bible, and used in both Measure for Measure and All's Well that Ends Well). But this musical, with its somewhere in the 1800's West setting, gives it a new twist. It also brings its own tone and style to the few references that are indebted to the inspirational source.

However, except for a quote from Hamlet toward the end ("There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy") the place to find specific Shakespearian text is in the program's Author Note — an amusing 2-page mock interview with Shakespeare that has him answer each question with one of his most frequently quoted lines; for example, when the unnamed questioner asks the mock Shakespeare what he thought about turning his Measure For Measure into a 6-person Western set in the 19th Century with country and western music, the response is "What fools these mortals be."

No doubt Desperate Measure's creative team has done a lot of fine tuning since its initial presentation at the 2006 New York Musical Theatre premiere. For starters, it's now directed and choreographed by Bill Castellino, who helmed the York's most recent big success, Cagney , and designed by the York's own artistic director James Morgan. Castellino smoothly steers the ensemble through the various locations of Morgan's abstract yet fully furnished feeling scenery. And all the performers rate an A+ for their acting and singing.

Peter Kelloggg's book dishes up all the elements of an old-fashioned B-movie: Johnny Blood (Conor Ryan) havng murdered someone in self-defense is in jail and about to be hanged. The fair-minded Sheriff Green (Peter Saide) enlists Johnny's sister Susanna, now a novice nun named Sister Mary Jo, to plead with the hard-line, Trump-ish Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber (Nick Wyman) for his pardon.

The lecherous Governor offers a tough deal: Johnny's freedom for a night in bed with him by the chaste young nun. Schemes to outfox the Governor follow, the main one being for Bella (Lauren Molina), Johnny's less virtuous lady love, to take Susanna's place in the Governor's bed.

While the bed trick works, it takes another act of complications to bring about the all's well that ends well ending. You see Bella so successfuly mixes chaste and sexy when she takes over the bed from Susanna that the Governor falls in love with her. And so, he renegs on his bargain, and says he'll only free Johnny if she'll marry him.

But never fear. . . though Shakespeare scholars feel that only the first half of Measure For Measure's tragi-comedy classification is correct, the emphasis here is on comedy. Thus, the bed trick that ends act one turns into a bride-switching trick for a rousing finale that unsurprisingly unites Susanna and Bella with the right men.

These ridiculous, over the top efforts to keep Johnny Blood's neck out of the noose ominously hanging at one side of the stage aren't especially illuminating or as darkly satiric as Shakespeare's version. But who cares when Desperate Measures is such a pleasurable escape from the tragedies all around our immediate and distant world.

The actors milk their broadly drawn characters for maximum humor and beautifully render David Friedman's catchy score and Peter Kelloggg's very smart lyrics.vEmma Degerstedt brings a gorgeous voice and lots of charm to the show's heroine, as does Lauren Molina as the less demure saloon singer Bella.

Peter Saide's Sheriff Green is aptly tall, dark and handsome to insure that Susanna will no more spend the rest of her days as a nun than Maria did in The Sound of Music. He too is a wonderful singer.

Conor Ryan gets the not too swift Johnny Blood just right. Gary Marachek makes the most of the relatively minor though important role of a drunken priest. Best of all is Nick Wyman, as the show's villain, the Governor. Wyman who's been with the show since its New York Music Festial (NYMF) trial run, also has the most impressive resume.

No small measure of the eye and ear pleasing aspects of this big little musical is the work of the other designers, especially Nicole Wee's period, place and character supporting costumes. Bravo also to the musicians who play Friedman's lovely score without ever letting their instruments (piano, guitar, banjo, bass, fiddle and mandolin) drown out Kelloggg's very much worth hearing lyrics.

While Desperate Measures sticks to its aim to be a light-hearted diversion, the Sheriff does get to take a poke at the people currently governing us so poorly. As he puts it: "Maybe not right now . . . but when honest, decent men will be elected and crooks like you (meaning the Governor) who now go undetected will finish up a distant also-ran." Amen to that. The Sheriff deserves to get the girl!

Musical Numbers
Act One
    The Ballad of Johnny Blood - Johnny and All
    That's How it is - Sheriff
    Some Day They Will Thank Me - Goovernor
    Look In Your Heart - Susanna
    Good To Be Alive - Johnny
    It Doesn't Hurt To Try - Johnny, Sheriff, Susanna & Priest
    It's Getting Hot In Here - Bella
    The Way That You Feel On The Inside - Susanna, Bella & Sheriff
    Stop There - Sheriff
    In the Dark - All
Act Two
    What A Night - Governor
    About Last Night - Susanna & Governor
    Just For You - Bella & Johnny
    What Is This Feeling - Susanna
    Life Takes You By Surprise - All
    Good To Be Alive (reprise) - Johnny
    Its A Beautiful Day For a Lifelong Commitment - Bella & Susanna
    Finale - All

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Desperate Measures
Loosely Based ON Measure ForMeasure
Book and lyrics by Peter Kellogggg and music by David Friedman
Directed and choreographed by Bill Castellino
Music Direction and Orchestrations by David Hancock Turner
Cast (Except for Emma Degerstedt, the original production Susanna/Sister Mary Jo, this is the same cast as in the original York production): Gary Marachek (Father Morse, and others), Lauren Molina (Bella Rose), Sarah Parnicky (Susanna/Sister Msty Mary Jo), Conor Ryan (Johnny Blood), Peter Saide (Sheriff Marti Green), Nick Wyman (Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber).
Cast: Emma Degerstedt (Susanna/Sister Mary Jo), Gary Marachek (Father Morse), Lauren Molina (Bella Rose), Conor Ryan (Johnny Blood), Peter Saide (Sheriff Green), Nick Wyman (Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber)
Musicians: David Hancock Turner (conductor/piano/harmonica); Justin Rotheberg (guitar/banjo/mandolin);Joseph Wallace (double bass); Martha McDonnell (Violin/Mandolin) Sets: James Morgan
Costumes: Nicole Wee
Lighting: Paul Mller
Sound: Julian Evans
Wigs, Hair & Makeup:Tommy Kurzman
Properties: Deb Gaouette
Stage Manager: CJ LaRoche
Running time: 2 hours and 20 Minutes with s 1 intermission.> The production which opened at the York Theatre Company at Saint Peter's 619 Lexington Avenue where it closed 10/29/17 after 3 extensions, is now running at New World Stages, Theater 4, 340 West 50th Street
From 5/30/18; re-opening 6/13/18; closing 10/28/18
Re-reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 6/07/18 press preview

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