Off Broadway Review: "Desperate Measures" at New World Stages

Tara Kennedy

  • Chief Connecticut Theatre Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle
  • American Theatre Critics Association

The Wild West meets the British Bard with New World Stages’ Desperate Measures. With a musical score by David Friedman and book and lyrics by Peter Kellogg, it premiered at York Theater in 2017 with three extensions, and it’s easy to see why: It’s a madcap musical with heart, and there’s lots to love about it. 

Based loosely on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, it tells the story of Johnny Blood (Conor Ryan), a ne’er -do-well who shoots another man in self-defense, but is set to hang for the killing anyway, despite his saloon girl lover, Bella Rose (Lauren Molina), claiming the other man drew first.  Sheriff Green (Peter Saide) believes that Johnny has been wronged and wants to see him pardoned, so he goes in search of Johnny’s sister, Susanna (Sarah Parnicky), who he finds in a convent about to become Sister Mary Jo… a nun. The Sheriff believes Susanna can convince the ruthless, rigid Governor von Richterhenkempflichtgetruber (Nick Wyman) to pardon Johnny. He will on one condition: if Susanna goes to bed with him before becoming a full-fledged nun. She is obviously horrified by the idea, but plots with the Sheriff and Bella Rose to fool the governor by having Bella Rose step in as Susanna when the lights go out. The governor is sufficiently fooled, but becomes so enamored with Susanna that he refuses to pardon Johnny unless Susanna agrees to marry him.  Naturally, Susanna doesn’t want to agree to this, so some more games of switcheroo need to happen in order for there to be a happily ever after. Throw in a drunken, existentialist-obsessed priest, Father Morse (Gary Marachek), to help with this plan, and you’ve got a recipe for hilarity.  

 Gary Marachek, Peter Saide, Lauren Molina, Nick Wyman, Connor Ryan, and Sarah Parnicky Carol Rosegg

Gary Marachek, Peter Saide, Lauren Molina, Nick Wyman, Connor Ryan, and Sarah Parnicky Carol Rosegg

The performances are all top-notch, and in lilting, twangy iambic pentameter to boot.  Mr. Saide and Ms. Parnicky excel as the “straight” players in this musical comedy, both with fantastic singing voices. Their chemistry is palpable and teasingly fun. Mr. Ryan is the perfect dopey rascal (with some radical singing pipes!), but it’s when he teams up with Ms. Molina that his physical comedic skills come shining through.

Their musical number together, “Just for You,” demonstrates both actors’ fantastic ability in physical comedy. Truth be told, Ms. Molina is one of my favorite performers right now and I love the sass and spunk she brings to Bella Rose. Mr. Wyman’s governor is the perfect dastardly bad guy: Think Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi in the movie, “Ed Wood” with a German accent instead of a Hungarian one. He plays a delightful villain. Mr. Marachek adds an additional layer of entertainment with his struggles with Nietzsche and alcohol.   

The songs are clever and fun, and I don’t even like country or western music. And while the book’s rhyming schemes sometimes fall a little flat, it’s not enough of an issue to take away from the overall production. Scenic design by James Morgan is rustic and rough-around-the-edges, which is perfect for this Western musical comedy; street signs and posters in old-time, vaudevillian style pop up and out on cue.  Costumes by Nicole Wee are fittingly western in style, with added pizzazz for some of the glitzier costumes like Bella Rose’s striptease outfit.        

Honestly, I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying this show: It’s funny, sweet, and enjoyable. So, if you’re looking for a laugh-out-loud, heartwarming good time in NYC, head to New World Stages for some zany, lively fun at Desperate Measures.