Off-Broadway Review: “Desperate Measures” at the York Theatre Company

Off-Broadway Review: “Desperate Measures” at the York Theatre Company (Extended through Sunday November 26, 2017)
Book and Lyrics by Peter Kellogg
Music by David Friedman
Directed and Choreographed by Bill Castellino
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Although billed as being “loosely based” on the classic Shakespearian comedy, “Desperate Measures,” currently playing at the York Theatre Company, has the “guts” of “Measure for Measure” with the charm and appeal of a traditional Broadway musical. Peter Kellogg and David Friedman are to be commended for achieving this feat and bringing this clever retelling to the stage.

Somewhere out West in the late 1800s, Johnny Blood (Conor Ryan) has been jailed for shooting and killing a man in a fight over Bella Rose (Lauren Molina) the chanteuse at the local saloon. Johnny is scheduled to hang and reaches out to his cell mate Father Morse (Gary MaraCcek) who has been jailed for intoxication and gives more credence to Friedrich Nietzsche than to the Deity. His only hope is his sister Susanna (Emma Degerstedt) who is just days away from becoming a nun – Sister Mary Jo. Hopefully the good Sister sister can convince Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber (Nick Wyman) to pardon her brother and allow Sheriff Martin Green (Pater Saide) to set Johnny free.

The parallels to Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” genuinely please the audience in this rollicking romantic retelling. Susanna and the Sheriff have a crush on one another. The Governor has a crush on Susanna (or is it Bella?). Johnny and Bella want to marry and start a family. And Father Morse just wants to get drunk and correspond with the now dead Nietzsche.

The discerning Shakespeare aficionado will recognize (in addition to the bare bones of the plot): Vincentio the Duke (Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber); a morally unambiguous Angelo the Deputy (Sheriff Green); a Claudio (Johnny Blood); his sister Isabella – with a bit of the Nun (Susanna); Claudio’s Beloved Juliet – with a bit of Mistress Overdone (Bella Rose); and the Duke’s alter ego Friar Peter (Father Morse).

Also present are the engaging themes of “Measure for Measure.” This retelling manages to address law and order, justice, hypocrisy, and moral ambiguity in comedic ways without dismissing their importance in the Wild West and in the current socio-political environment. There’s even a not-so-veiled jab at the current occupants of the White House as well as mistaken identity and Peter Kellogg’s rhyming iambic pentameter. There is enough here for many of the audience members to have seen the musical more than once.

This is a pleasant musical that celebrates the enduring themes of love, commitment, and “being alive.”  The cast is uniformly engaging – all triple threats with vocal, acting, and movement skills. They stay true to their characters and deliver authentic and believable performances. The eighteen musical numbers range from the comedic to the sublime. Mr. Friedman’s music is varied in style and inspiration and complements Mr. Kellogg’s lively book and lyrics perfectly. Favorites are Susanna’s “Look in Your Heart,” Johnny’s “Good to Be Alive,” and “The Way You Feel Inside” the trio by Susanna, Bella, and the Sheriff. Peter Saide, Emma Degerstedt, Lauren Molina, and Conor Ryan have exceptionally fine voices with extensive ranges and can interpret and deliver lyrics with sensitivity and nuance.

Will Sheriff Green and Susanna unite and marry? Will Bella and Johnny get hitched? Will Father Morse discover the truth about the letter he received from Friedrich Nietzsche? Will the Governor show any remorse for his despicable behavior? Perhaps Bella and Susanna’s duet “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Lifelong Commitment” provides a hint. See “Desperate Measures” before it pulls up stakes and leaves town.