Review: ‘Desperate Measures’ at the York Theatre Company in NYC

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A small, amiable musical, very loosely based on Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure, has opened at the York Theatre Company on Manhattan’s Lexington Avenue. It’s called Desperate Measures and it offers a rollicking good time for those who enjoy shows that haven’t much on their minds other than to tickle your ribs and serve comfort food to your ears.

Lauren Molina in Desperate Measures. Photo courtesy of York Theatre Company.

For the music by David Friedman, with a book and lyrics by Peter Kellogg, is spirited, and sprinkled with wit. To connect itself to a classic, its book is in verse that rhymes, which is so old fashioned it’s almost avant garde. There are eighteen musical numbers to help tell the story, now set in 1890 in a lawless territory out west. “Johnny Blood” (played by Conor Ryan) is its hero, a hot tempered young cowboy, who kills a man in self defense in a bar fight, but he finds himself sentenced to hang. His sister is a sweet novice nun in a nearby mission, and she pleads with a corrupt governor to spare her brother’s life. She finally prevails upon him, but he insists she thank him by giving herself to him for one night. She certainly doesn’t want that, and the madcap and complicated plot spins around a shiny sheriff, a lady of the night who doubles as a saloon singer (think a souped-up “Miss Adelaide” in Guys and Dolls), and a slightly loony priest who reads Nietzche.

The songs come fast and loose, so many of them that they tend to blend into one, but they are individually listed as “That’s Just How It Is,” “Some Day They Will Thank Me,” “Look In Your Heart,” “It Doesn’t Hurt To Try,” “What A Night,” “About Last Night,” “Life Takes You By Surprise,” and many more that sort of tell us what their author had in mind, right there in the title. The melodies are pleasant but not substantial enough to warrant so many of them.

Peter Saide, Emma Degerstedt, Conor Ryan, and Gary Marachek in Desperate Measures. Photo courtesy of York Theatre Company.

A cast of six experienced comic actors each has a chance to land with a piece of special material, which they fill with invention and just the right amount of comic attitude. Emma Degerstedt makes a most appealing Sister Mary Jo and her musical partner, the tall and lanky sheriff Martin Green is played with quiet charm and a big voice by Peter Saide. As the flashy Bella Rose, an occasional saloon singer, Lauren Molina has the opportunity to flash her skirts and kick up her heels as a wildly frenetic Chita Rivera.

Conor Ryan’s Johnny Blood, whose fate is decided by a deus ex machina, is right up there as a worthy in a fun number he shares with her, called “Just For You.” Nick Wyman plays the nasty Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber with all the inspired miming that a man with that name deserves. He is often hilarious, and very welcome, as are they all in the spirited finale.

In the band, a grand quartet of players of mandolin, double bass, guitar and piano make good use also of banjo and fiddle under the spirited baton of pianist David Hancock Turner. Artistic Director James Morgan contributes mightily also as scenic designer, whose various sets and side pieces are constant reminders that we are in for a most pleasant treat of a friendly smile-maker of a musical. Directed by Bill Castellino, whose musical bio Cagney recently concluded a long and successful run in New York, I’d call this a spirited romp.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.

Desperate Measures plays through October 15, 2017 at York Theatre Company – 619 Lexington Avenue, in New York, NY. Tickets may be purchased online.

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Richard Seff
RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.