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Desperate Measures

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors


Desperate Measures Play
Peter Saide, Emma Degerstedt, Conor Ryan, Gary Marachek. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

With a dash of Shakespeare's Measure For Measure, the York Theater Company opens its 2017-2018 season with delicious dish of mercy and virtue spiced with Old West country-western-folk music.  A spirited musical, it is not called Desperate Measures for nothing.

Lyricist Peter Kellogg’s slick book features rhyming couplets and a score of 18 David Friedman (Scandalous) catchy tunes with Kellogg's (Anna Karenina) lyrics.  The story is an corny musical comedy revolving around an Old West town in 1890 with good guys and bad guys who set the opening scene with "The Ballad of Johnny Blood." Johnny  (Conor Ryan) is an impetuous young cowpoke who finds himself in a drunken brawl over a saloon songbird, Bella Rose (Lauren Molina), where another man is killed.  Johnny is arrested and sentenced to hang.  Sharing his cell is Father Morse (Gary Marachek), a wacky wise-but-buffoonish priest who likes booze and Nietzsche. 

Johnny's sister, Susanna (Emma Degerstedt), a novice nun called Sister Mary Jo, steps in to help.  Played by Emma Degerstedt (The Little Mermaid), she visits the show's villain, Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber (Nick Wyman), a four-flusher with a booming baritone voice, urging him to save her brother.  The Governor agrees to pardon Johnny, but only if Susanna/Sister Mary Jo will 'do his bidding' and spend the night with him.  What is this sweet novice nun to do?

Trying to help, the hunky well-meaning town Sheriff, Martin Green (Peter Saide), already has his eye on Susanna and a plan is hatched to secretly switch bed partners.  Since Johnny and the steamy saloon vixen, Bella Rose, are already a couple, the scheme is for Bella to trade places with the chaste Susanna and secretly slip between the Governor's sheets herself. (Bella has a shady past anyway).  She and Johnny work it out with a snappy, "Just For You," the show's outstanding number.

By the end, Bella's sacrifice saves Johnny and Susanna/Sister Mary Jo, retains her chastity for the Sheriff.  Each couple ends up with the right partner.  The brides, wearing Nicole Wee's frothy wedding costumes, kick up their heels with a spirited "It's a Beautiful Day for a Lifelong Commitment."

Directed and choreographed by Bill Castellino (Cagney), an appropriately brisk pace keeps the plot nimble for the six bang-up actors to chew up the scenery. The York's Artistic Director, James Morgan, created a wooden plank stage setting with a noose dropping over the audience.  Emma Degerstedt's lilting soprano voice in "What Is This Feeling?" brings out Susanna's youthful sensitivity.  "It's Getting Hot in Here" proves Lauren Molina (Rock of Ages) is pure saucy spark as Bella Rose.  The two male leads show distinct differences, Conor Ryan's (Cinderella) Johnny Blood is hot-headed and immature while Peter Saide (Skin Tight) brings a resonant voice and  authority to Sheriff Green.

Shakespeare's Measure to Measure is basically a wire hanger holding up 18 fetching and fitting tunes.  Friedman's country sound shows  authenticity in David Hancock Turner's orchestrations and himble pianissimo, accompanied by Douglas Waterbury-Teman on fiddle and mandolin, Justin Rothberg on guitar and banjo, and Joseph Wallace's double bass. 

Desperate Measures is the little musical that comes off big on all levels.  With shadows of Shakespeare, it is witty and lively and the York Theater delivers a captivating New York premiere production.

Desperate Measures
York Theatre Company
619 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY
Previews: Sept. 19, 2017. Opening: Oct. 1, 2017. Closing: Oct. 29, 2017 (extended)
Running time: 2 hours. One intermission.
Cast: Emma Degerstedt, Gary Marachek, Lauren Molina, Conor Ryan, Peter Saide, and Nick Wyman
Book and Lyrics: Peter Kellogg
Music: David Friedman
Director and Choreographer: Bill Castellino

Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
October 2017

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