By Myra Chanin
You say you wanna create a perfect 21st century musical, with
- A toe-tapping unforgettable score of fifteen hummable tunes and precise expressive lyrics that say exactly what they mean and make you want to rush out and buy the CD so you can hear the songs over and over again and again?
- A brilliant book without an extra syllable in it, written in can-that-be-rhymed-iambic-pentameter-couplets strewn with low jinx bawdy enough to amuse the baseborn and observations astute enough to impress the scholarly, yet capable of making both of the above mutually burst into billowing roars of laughter?
Then follow the lead of Desperate Measure’s creators Peter Kellogg and David Friedman.
Cheers for James Morgan, York Theater’s Producing Artistic Director, for selecting Desperate Measures as its first Mainstage production of the 2017-18 Season and additional plaudits for designing the haimish, rickety, no-nonsense set that converts from courtroom to nunnery garden to dancehall to the Governor’s satin-sheeted bedroom to a mobile jail cell adept at scampering around the stage.
An initial Hip, Hip, Hurrah for David Friedman’s toe-tapping, hand-clapping, shoulder-shaking memorably hummable folksy melodies which transform bodies into a writhing, rhythmic, kinetic mass. He also deserves appreciation for his tender minor key ballads sprinkled with gentle diminished chords that remind you how having love in your heart feels. Friedman’s name may be unfamiliar, but you know his work composing beloved ballads sung by the late/great Nancy LaMott and for the past 8 years he and Kathie Lee Gifford have supplied one song per month for the “Everybody Has A Story” segment of The Today Show.
The Tony-nominated Peter Kellogg is a verbal virtuoso, a warlock of wordsmithery who contributed book and lyrics to Desperate Measures.
Carol Hanzel deserves a Nobel Prize for not only casting but for netting such an unspoiled, impeccable, picture perfect catch of performers. Likewise, Nicole Wee’s noticeably clever costumes include twin bridal outfits and a take-it-off cowgirl ensemble which came off bit by bit.
Endless gratitude is due the sly, cunning, devious, underhanded, experienced director/choreographer Bill Castellino, who previously directed/choreographed Cagney, for guiding these six exceptional, impressively credited, couldn’t-be-one-iota-better performers into playing six defective characters and confining their mastery in stealing scenes to one theft at a time?
The adorable Conor Ryan, unjustly condemned to hang for a murder which was actually self-defense, plays Johnny Blood as a passionate dolt, too simple-minded to make tracks to Mexico when that escape route is laid out for him.
Johnny’s cellmate Gary Marachek’s Father Morse, is a lapsed priest driven to atheism and drink by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche’s indifference to a letter written by priest to philosopher questioning something Zarathustra spake.
The endearing Emma Degerstedt as Johnny’s recently reunited-with-her-brother sister Susanna, a mere two days from taking the vows that will make her Sister Mary Jo, begs for clemency for her brother from Nick Wyman as the magnificently corrupt Otto von Richtenhenkenpflichtgetruber, the villainous governor of the territory who refuses her plea but, attracted by her virtue and moved by her song urging him to look into his heart, offers to spare her brother’s life if she will surrender her virtue to him.
Peter Saide, the manly, kindly, upright, more intelligent than he lets on, Sherriff Green, proposes a better solution: hiring a professionally less chaste lass to take Susanna’s spot in the Governor’s bed in the dark.
The miraculous Lauren Molina as profligate Bella Rose gives an unbelievably brilliant performance. As Bella, the dancing girl/hooker beloved by Johnny Blood whose mistreatment by the Swede starts the story, has only one question – whether to wear her novice or her Mother Superior outfit to the gig?
Does the Sherriff’s plan work? Only too well!
Act II opens with Otto von Richtenhenkenpflichtgetruber so madly in love and craving marriage to the woman he believed shared his night of passion that he renigs on their original deal and declares that only when Susanna agrees to marry him will he free her brother from the hangman’s noose.
Can Sherriff Green, sorta in love with Sister Mary Jo, unravel these myriad snags? Of course he can! It’s how he does it that makes the bucks you plunked down for you seat worth every cent. Each one of these six performers sings beautifully, dances well and can really deliver a joke.
Also praiseworthy is David Hancock Turner for both his plummy, perky arrangements, tickling the ivories and leading a band of three gifted musicians — Justin Rothberg on spirited guitar and banjo, Douglas Waterbury-Tieman on jaunty fiddle and mandolin and Joseph Wallace underscoring the score on his mellow double bass.
Having seen this twice, I’ve noted every person in the audience, from geezer to teen, stood up and cheered at the final curtain and walked out laughing and discussing which friends they’re going to recommend see it. Not to worry, yeehaw and verily, reviews and word of mouth have been so unanimously ecstatic that Desperate Measures, the Knee-Slappin’ New Western Musical, just announced a two-week extension. It will run at the York Theatre until October 29.
Photos: Carol Rosegg
Extended . . . again thru November 26.
York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s
Citicorp Building, entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue.
Tickets are available online at www.yorktheatre.org or 212-935-5820