New World Stages
“Desperate Measures,” the delightful new musical playing at New World Stages Off-Broadway, is a real lark of a show. Very loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” this musical is set in the Wild West, in the late 1800s. The six member cast is uniformly fine and “Desperate Measures” also boasts a wholly enjoyable score, with music by David Friedman. It should be warned that a great deal of the dialogue is spoken in rhymed couplets, but this rarely becomes a problem: Peter Kellogg’s book and lyrics are entirely fresh and revivifying. Staged on a rather simple, yet appropriate, set (skillfully designed by James Morgan), director/choreographer Bill Castellino keeps the action merrily spinning from beginning to end. “Desperate Measures” can certainly be recommended as a highly amusing and tuneful warm weather treat.
The fact that “Desperate Measures” takes a leaf from the plot of “Measure for Measure” ends up working quite well—the creators of this show use Shakespeare’s play as a springboard for a delectable and rowdy evening of song and story. Not to give too much of the plot away, this musical concerns the imprisonment and impending hanging of the character Johnny Blood (the terrific Conor Ryan), who has been arrested on somewhat trumped-up charges. The balance of the story concerns the people closest to him trying to clear his name, including his slightly estranged sister Susanna (who is to become a nun, Sister Mary Jo) and Bella Rose, the woman who loves him, but is not above stretching her morals if it is demanded of her.
Both of these women are played by superb actresses. As the soon-to-be nun, Sister Mary Jo, Sarah Parnicky absolutely shines throughout and displays a truly beautiful singing voice. And, even though her character is mostly strait-laced, it is not above Parnicky to unbend, when she needs to, particularly in her wonderful duet with Bella Rose, “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Lifetime Commitment.” And speaking of Bella Rose, Lauren Molina is just perfect in the part, both sexy and comical and her singing is likewise fabulous. I have seen this actress to great advantage in revivals of two Stephen Sondheim shows, “Sweeney Todd” and “Assassins,” but Molina is even better here, creating her own deeply humorous and endearing character.
A word must be said about the other actors in the cast. As the somewhat buttoned up and stern Sheriff Martin Green, the excellent Peter Saide also manages to win laughs and he possesses swarthy good looks. Saide gets two pleasurable solos in the first act, “That’s Just How It Is” and “Stop There,” the second song detailing how he is fighting against the desire to loosen up a bit. As perhaps the funniest (and most intoxicated) person onstage, Gary Marachek is a riot in a variety of small roles, including Father Morse, and this actor possesses the rubbery face and hilarious double-takes worthy of the finest comediennes.
Also having a great deal of fun onstage is Nick Wyman, who fully embodies the supremely unscrupulous governor of the town, who is the only person who possesses the power to pardon Johnny Blood from being hanged. Like his costars, the highly comedic Wyman gets some fine songs to sing, including “Some Day They Will Thank Me” and the boastful “What a Night.” Still, if there is one real standout in this company of performers, it is Conor Ryan, as the ill-fated Johnny Blood. Ryan possesses the loose-limbs capable of numerous pratfalls and other elements of physical comedy. He also gets perhaps the biggest ovation, singing the outstanding “Good to Be Alive,” which he delivers in a rich, showstopping voice.
The score by David Friedman and Peter Kellogg is pretty dandy, and, with the framework of Shakespeare’s play being the suitable outline to boost the plot, everything about “Desperate Measures” is splendid and high-spirited, including the exceptional small off-stage band, led by the expert music director David Hancock Turner, who is also responsible for the irresistible orchestrations. This show also looks quite grand, thanks in great part to the colorful costumes by Nicole Wee and the stylish lighting design by Paul Miller.
The show itself is truly a joy to watch. For a romping good time, I doubt that you could do better than to mosey on down to New World Stages to see the deliciously amusing “Desperate Measures.”
“Desperate Measures” continues performances at New World Stages in New York City. For tickets, please visit www.DesperateMeasuresMusical.com or call Telecharge at 212-239-6200.
Photo: Lauren Molina and Conor Ryan
Photo by Carol Rosegg