Desperate Measures: A Musical Comedy Gone Wild - New York City Article
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“Desperate Measures: A Musical Comedy Gone Wild”
Book and Lyrics by Peter Kellogg; Music by David Friedman
New World Stages
340 West 50th Street
If you’ve heard anything about Desperate Measures, chances are you’re aware that authors Peter Kellogg and David Friedman started with Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and turned it into a musical western. More important than that, the first thing you should know about Desperate Measures is that they’ve taken Shakespeare’s iconic play (circa 1603 or ‘04) and made it funny: hysterically, rip-snortingly, knee-slappingly funny. All the times I’ve seen Measure for Measure, I’ve marvelled at the web of moral entanglements that Shakespeare manages to construct (it would take a Congress of Cardinals to fully fathom its implications - it is, after all, loosely titled after a phrase from The Bible). But I don’t think that, until now, I have ever laughed truly laughed at Measure for Measure - and certainly never while tapping my toes to a country-and-western two-beat.
Thus, as Shakespeare would say, you know coming in that the basic plot will be more than sufficient. (Although not necessarily: the 2004 musical disaster All Shook Up was more hurt than helped by its allusions to Twelfth Night.) The score is wonderful: as with the best musical comedies (note the term), from Guys and Dolls to The Producers and Book of Mormon, the songs not only help advance the plot and delineate the characters, but they contribute to the comedy. There’s plenty of lively two-four time in the songs, a happy halfway point between country music and show tunes, but David Friedman has given lots of lovely waltzes as well. Most ambitious is the Act One closer, “In the Dark,” a melody and lyric idea which we hear three different ways: as an erotic tango, a straightforward love ballad, and a more introspective and philosophical aria that provides a brief moment of serious contemplation - a temporarily respite from all the hilarity.
And the cast is yummy: in the best Broadway tradition, Kellogg has extracted out of Shakespeare not only a main couple, Peter Saide and Sarah Parnicky, both excellent, but a secondary comedy couple. Conor Ryan dances and cavorts as if his legs were made of silly putty and scene-stealer Lauren Molina (of The Skivvies) sings and mugs as if her face were made of rubber - although I confess that I didn’t recognize her with her clothes on (part of the time anyhow) and without her cello. Nick Wyman plays an oversized villain in a purple tailcoat he could have borrowed from either Willie Wonka or the Joker (from Batman) with a mock German accent that he wields like an enormous cartoon mallet, and Gary Marachek also pulls focus as a nihilistic, alcoholic cleric.
Desperate Measures is sure to have a long run at New World Stages, and the cast album has already been released, but I recommend seeing it as soon as possible, while this cast is still intact.
Author: Will Friedwald
Will Friedwald writes about music and popular culture for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, VANITY FAIR and PLAYBOY magazine and reviews current shows for THE CITIVIEW NEW YORK. He also is the author of nine books, including the award-winning A BIOGRAPHICAL GUIDE TO THE GREAT JAZZ AND POP SINGERS, SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU, STARDUST MELODIES, TONY BENNETT: THE GOOD LIFE, LOONEY TUNES & MERRIE MELODIES, and JAZZ SINGING. He has written over 600 liner notes for compact discs, received ten Grammy nominations, and appears frequently on television and other documentaries. He is also a consultant and curator for Apple Music.
SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU - NEW REVISED EDITION (Chicago Review Press, May 2018)