Desperate Measures relies on cliche and spoof to carry the evening. That said, this show has enough feel-good reserve that, by the time it wraps up, the audience is clapping to the band’s hoedown rhythms as the cast takes curtain calls. Everyone exits feeling good and wondering just where those great “broke-in” cowboy boots are stored.
This production at New World Stages lifts its story line loosely from Shakespeare's Measure for Measure and its look and language from Gunsmoke. As with both of those forms, you might expect stock characters here. Neither the strong-silent-type sheriff nor the mustache-twirling villain disappoints. There is the chaste ingenue teetering on the edge of sex and the baud who’s been at it for some time. Mix in the dim bad boy facing a noose and the drunken Irish priest facing a crisis of conscience and — well — you could almost write this yourself.
Peter Kellogg did write the book and lyrics himself, folding in some genuinely funny moments — relying on the audience to be in on the joke. Combined with David Friedman’s music, it’s not an evening of Lerner and Loewe nor Sondheim, to be sure. But Desperate Measures is a sweet, small show with two, maybe three, strong songs and some lively, if conventional, music.
My companion for the evening had played the villain’s role in a school production of Measure for Measure, and he was able to resurrect some of the original Shakespearian verse as we chatted over drinks at the interval. That helped underscore Kellogg’s compelling audacity in iambic-pentameter-ing a Western takeover of an Elizabethan comedy. Simply put, just as the Bard did, Kellogg makes the rhyming device fun without beating you over the head with it.
When you only have six voices to carry a musical, they had better be strong, and these are. When Sarah Panicky first sings, she offers up a crisp, clear sound that, while supported by wonderful musicians, sounds almost a capella in its glassy fragility. Conor Ryan, playing Johnny Blood, the guy to be hanged in the morning, has a voice that mirrors his gymnastic movement. He is pitch perfect while showing an athletic range both vocally and physically.
His duet with the engaging Lauren Molina as Bella, the whore with a heart of fool’s gold, is reminiscent of the mad Comden and Green boy-girl songs of the 40s and 50s.
The sheriff is written funny, and Peter Saide brings a great understated grace to the joke. He also brings a big voice. You just like him. (Oddly, his bandaged nose and black eye were distracting, though you can imagine the staff saying, “He’s a sheriff, it’s dangerous work, no one will notice.”)
Nick Wyman, the villain, singing “Some Day They Will Thank Me” made me think of the marvelous Jonathan Groff as King George in Hamilton. Wyman’s rich sound aside, he has no problem chewing the scenery with real distinction.
Gary Marachek’s disillusioned priest seems to harmonize with everyone. His Father Morse is one of Shakespeare’s requisite fools, and Marachek plays him big and broad.
If these six players are miked, they are perfectly miked, because the singing voices and the harmonies sound pure.
In the market for a small, sweet, feel-good musical? Desperate Measures should do the trick!
(Photo by Carol Rosegg)