If you find yourself in the vicinity of New World Stages, you’d better run inside for cover. Because the cast of the Wild West tuner, Desperate Measures, is gunning for your funny bone, and they are aimin’ to hit a bull’s eye.
I just saw Desperate Measures for the third time. The first time I saw it was at the New York Musical Festival. I was convinced they’d be on Broadway within a year. Flash forward eleven years. That’s how long it can take a new musical even this good to get out there. Thank Artistic Director James Morgan of the York Theater for giving this revised version of the show a chance to be seen again here in New York. Commercial producer Pat Addis got involved, and after three extensions at the York the show moved to an open run at the New World Stages. Now this company of brilliant fools is already in negotiations to take their hootin’ and hollerin’ to such far flung places as Australia and Malaysia. So if you want to see them while you can still get there on your Metro pass, you better giddy up!
Shakespeare wrote 37 plays, and three of them are known as the problem plays. The term comes from a label for certain 19thcentury dramas which focused on hard-to-resolve social issues. Desperate Measures is a Western themed musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s best problem play, Measure for Measure. The plot and characters may be very loosely adapted from its source. But the central question of whether absolute morality can exist separately from our human needs remains the same. And it’s much funnier here.
In Desperate Measures, a handsome but not too bright young man, Johnny Blood, defends Belle, a local saloon girl he loves, and kills her attacker. He gets arrested by the straight arrow Sheriff Green, and is sentenced to death by the hard-nosed Germanic Governor Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber.
At the urging of the Sheriff, Johnny’s sister, Susanna, a novice nun soon to become a full fledged nun, goes to plead with the Governor for the life of her brother. It turns out that the Governor is an all powerful, amoral and self-serving old man with a penchant for pretty young women, who believes anything he wants for himself is justified by any means. If a certain somebody ever gives up politics, this role could restart his career in show business.
So the Governor offers Susanna a deal, same as in Shakespeare’s play. He’ll let Johnny live, but only if Susanna will yield up her chastity to him. Susanna’s choice between duty to the church and duty to family becomes even more complicated for her when she finds herself inconveniently attracted to Sheriff Green. To save Susanna’s chastity for the right guy, the Sheriff hatches a plot to substitute Belle for Susanna in the dark, hoping the Governor won’t notice.
But Susanna isn’t the only one with a moral quandary. Johnny doesn’t mind leaning on Susanna to give up the sacred goods to save his life, even if it means breaking her vows. But he has a harder time accepting that his girlfriend, Belle, might do something like that with another guy, even though that is what she actually does for a living. In other words, it’s not just a play with one problem. The Sheriff wants to save Susanna’s calling, but he finds her beauty calling to him as well. So it’s a play about people with a lot of problems with no easy answers. Believe it or not, musical comedy ensues. What isn’t so funny to all of them is very funny to us. As the saying goes: Tragedy is when I fall down. Comedy is when you fall down.
Composer David Friedman has set Peter Kellogg’s clever lyrics beautifully, in a score with both country and comedic flair. The best song in the show, a duet called “Not For You” between Belle and Johnny, is as much of a classic battle of the sexes as “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” from Annie Get Your Gun.
Between the NYMF presentation and now, Kellogg he made the decision to turn his script into iambic pentameter, like the Shakespeare plays. But the dialogue is peppered with smart and funny rhymed couplets which sound even more like poet Richard Wilbur’s brilliant translations of the Moliere comedies than the Bard of Avon. Add to that a comic style which evokes the Italian street comedies of the Commedia dell’Arte. The result, under the whipcracking command of director-choreographer Bill Catellino, is a rootin’, tootin’ blend of modern and classic comic sensibilities.
This kind of comedy requires a delicate balance of sincerity and stylization, which this sharp shooting cast hits smack dab in the acting bulls eye. Connor Ryan’s Johnny Blood blunts his natural good looks with a goofy obtuseness. As the virginal Susanna, Sarah Parnicky brings just the right balance of resistance and ripeness. She is perfectly matched by tall, hunky Peter Saide as the Sheriff. Saide has played the exuberant braggart Gaston in Beauty and the Beast all over the place. But he chooses to bring a brilliantly understated restraint to the Sheriff, which makes us laugh even harder than if he had made the broader and more obvious choice. Veteran Nick Wyman as the Governor is the only cast member who has been with the show from the beginning, and is gleefully ickier than ever. Rubber faced Lauren Molina manages to pay tribute to the most outrageously funny choices of her idols Carol Burnett, Gilda Radner, and Lucille Ball. The cast is rounded out by Gary Marachek, whose Barry Fitzgerald-esque drunken priest is struggling with an existential crisis which can only be assuaged by a letter which may or may not be from Friedrich Nietzche himself.
James Morgan continues his association with the show as its set designer, creating a single barn-like environment with wonderfully funny signs to distinguish locations. Costumes by Nicole Wee also lend color and character nicely. The foot stompin’ musical direction and orchestrations are provided by a crackerjack band under the gun of David Hancock Turner.
So stop your dilly-dallying, and mosey on over to the New World Stages right now.
Ruth Stage’s “Lone Star” Guzzles Down Edgeless Revelations and Trauma at Theatre Row NYC
By Dennis W
Hey, grab yourself a six-pack and head out to Angel’s Bar (at NYC’s Theatre Row) where Ray, Roy, Cletis, and Elizabeth will meet you in the backyard. It’s just a place to hang out, where tired old lawn furniture and a few milk crates hiding in the scrub go before they retire to the junk pile. It’s the early 1970s, and there isn’t much to do in the backwater town of Maynard, Texas, as a matter of fact, the town almost disappeared not too long ago.
The main players, Roy and Ray, in Ruth Stage’s Lone Starwritten by James McLure (Original Adaption by Ruth Stage) seem to be the brothers. They exist here, living out a dark comedy about a psychological casualty of war who comes home. It begins with a substantial monologue and mini-concert by Roy’s wife, Elizabeth, played by Ana Isabelle (Off-Broadway’s I Like It Like That). She is trying to save her marriage to her high school sweetheart, a former soldier who came home from Vietnam two years ago and suffers from PTSD (which was not even acknowledged by the military until the 1980s). Isabelle gives an adequate performance but it feels very odd that she is alone on stage talking about how her husband’s condition has and is affecting her, him, their life together, their family, and their strained marriage. What’s odd is that when she’s finished she leaves, not to be seen again, until just before the final curtain.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
Have You Begun Dreaming of It Yet? (PART I)
What else – White Christmas, of course!
December is jampacked with great entertainment, so I hope you’re caught up on your shopping, because there are lots of treats for you this month. Here’s a stockingful of events that you shouldn’t miss.
If you’re looking for probably the most glamorous gift of the season, drop by Doyle Galleries to at least look at The Ellin and Irving Berlin Sapphire and Diamond Ring. Bidding is estimated to begin at $200,000 at the December 14th auction.
Jason Henderson kicked off the month reprising his highly acclaimed latest venture, Getting to Noël You at Don’t Tell Mama on the 4th. If you missed this evening, don’t worry – he’s back by popular demand—same time, same location—on January 24th and February 11th. It’s quite a curious and fast-paced ride he takes us on, and it’s one not to be missed.
The York Theatre has delivered a mitzvah–just in time for Christmas. Billed as a Musical Comedy of Biblical Proportions, The Jerusalem Syndrome certainly lived up to expectations. You must see it to discover the meaning of the title, which is fact, not fiction.
While this has been in development for several years, the skilled midwifery of the York brought forth a little bundle of joy that had the audience laughing at its humor and touched by its message. Sensitive to the current Middle East conflict, the York bravely went ahead with the project, which affords everyone a chance to marvel and understand the miracle that is Israel.
It’s running through the end of the year—visit the York website https://yorktheatre.org for more info.
Urban Stages has announced its “2023 Winter Rhythms” series, the award-winning music festival at Urban Stages Theater (259 West 30th Street – between 7th & 8th Avenues).
It began with a gala on December 6 entitled “Nights at the Algonquin: A Celebration of The Oak Room Supper Club,” featuring many legendary cabaret performers including Natalie Douglas, Boots Maleson, Steve Ross, and Daryl Sherman. Hosted by Michael Colby (author of The Algonquin Kid), the evening began with a champagne and wine reception followed by the show at 7:30 with a post-show gathering to follow.
On Sunday, December 10 at 3pm “Created at the Algonquin: Songs from Musicals Written at The Algonquin,” featuring performances by Craig Bierko, Shana Farr, Jenn Gambatese, Anita Gillette, Jon Peterson, Steve Ross and others. The program will be directed by Sara Louise Lazarus with Michael Lavine directing the music.
As part of the festivities, Shana Farr will reprise her glorious Barbara Cook tribute on the 16th. Ice Cream,. Anyone?
Everyone’s favorite is Karen Mason, whose show Christmas! Christmas! Christmas! is one night only at Birdland at 7 pm on the 11th.
Stay tuned for Part II for Christmas romance, tradition, and good will!
T2C Talks to Patrick Olson About Emergence
Patrick Olson, is a musician-scientist and now a performer with his own show Emergence, Off-Broadway at The Pershing Square Signature Center through January 7, 2024.
T2C talked to this prolific artist to learn more about what seems more like a movement and a unique experience.
See t2C’s review here.
Emergence: Things Are Not As They Seem: Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street through January 7th. Tickets and information: emergenceshow.com
Video by Magda Katz
Off Broadway Girl Talk Madwomen of the West
Right now at the Actors Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th Street is the New York premier of Sandra Tsing Loh’s Madwomen of the West. The show in a way reminded me of the 1996 play Love, Loss, and What I Wore, where celebrities joined on stage. Here you have Caroline Aaron, Brooke Adams, Marilu Henner, and Melanie Mayron, all actors who have performed on film, TV and stage. They are like long lost friends, they are so familiar.
The four have gathered together for Claudia’s (Mayron) birthday. It is being thrown at the Brentwood home of Jules (Adams) and Marilyn (Aaron) has decorated. Enter the long lost Zoey (Henner) and what you think you know about these friends, isn’t what it seems. As a matter of fact, this birthday brunch is about to turn into the brunch from hell. These Baby Boomers, are also feminists admiring Hilary Clinton and Gloria Steinem, though not always on the same side. They break the 4th wall, as they banter back and forth to themselves and to us, the audience. They confront, encourage, justify and talk about transgender, health, the horror of Trump and those “pussy hats”, sex and so much more. Think “girl-talk” to the max.
They sit on couches, as a backdrop of palm trees, and a lone piñata take center stage, thanks to set designer Christian Fleming. The play has no money, so the production is bare bones…. so they say. Everything about this show is tongue and check and is well directed by Thomas Caruso.
Each actor here shines and in an out of the way aside, each has pieces of their real selves written into the roles they play. Not having seen Aaron on stage before, I was impressed by her vocal quality and humor. Adams brings sophistication and Mayron adds that knowing, we are all in the same messed up boat. Henner will make you want that body and her sex appeal.
These women knocked down doors for the women to come, but I was surprised that the one issue they missed out on was that women are still not equal in this country. It takes 1, count it 1 state to approve this and yet plays about feminism leave this vital information out.
The show ends with “The Bitch is Back.” they sing in glee. I guess it is ok when we call ourselves that.
Madwomen of the West: The Actors Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th Street through December 31.
“Stereophonic” at Playwrights Horizons Sings Solidly
It’s July 1976, in a recording studio in Sausalito, CA and we are being invited into a space that only a select few get to visit, let alone witness. This is art in the making, pure and simple, with ego and love, getting mixed and faded in through the process most musically. In Playwrights Horizons‘s magnificent new play, Stereophonic, written most delicately by David Adjmi (The Blind King Parts I and II), a band on the cusp of greatness has assembled, and they are tasked, casually and with great intent, to something magnificent and meaningful, a lasting piece of musical art, to follow up their last album that has become, over the timeframe, a breakout hit.
The play is exceptionally well framed and constructed; both musical and meandering, in the best of all possible ways, yet somewhere inside Adjmi’s engaging Stereophonicand its three-hour running time, a deeper level of contextual art formulation is unpacked quite beautifully. It saunters forward, with a complicated level of exhaustion, angst, and inspiration, unearthing something that almost defies expectations and compartmentalization. It’s a 1970s rock saga, clearly modeled on the legendary Fleetwood Mac and their dynamic backstage friction, that leans into and plays with the problematic relationships within this unnamed band as they try to create magic behind a glass wall, while also trying to fulfill their emotional needs in the confines of the studio and real life.
It’s all emotional breakups and reconciliations, with a layer of bored and sleep-deprived banter; around a broken coffee machine and the annoying reverberations of (not only) the drum. It’s electric and conflictual, playing havoc on every one of these characters’ insecure hearts, while offering up no grand solutions or final product. Stereophonic is all about the tiny details and the little frustrations that grow and become emotional cannonballs bent on destruction, leveled and defused out of an undercurrent of love and need for creation. It is incandescent in its artful construction, displaying and writing about a realm few of us can understand. It’s the agony and ecstasy that lives and sings inside the magnificent creative process of musicians, arts, singers, and writers, who hear aspects that most of us can’t understand, let alone hear or comprehend. And we have been invited in, to bear witness to its creation, in all its meticulously dull and exhausting detail. Giving light to the darkness of the process, and how art can both create and destroy those involved in its coming to life.
Family1 day ago
Countdown to Christmas: Own The Moon
Events3 days ago
Happy Chanukah Day 2: Light One Candle With The Carney’s
Events1 day ago
Happy Chanukah Day 4 Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik Explains The Holiday
Events2 days ago
Happy Chanukah Day 3: Food For Thought
Family3 days ago
Countdown to Christmas Day: Map The Song Of Your Life
Family2 days ago
Countdown to Christmas Day Our Holiday Gift Guide: A Portable Campfire
Off Broadway4 days ago
T2C Talks to Patrick Olson About Emergence
Cabaret3 days ago
Have You Begun Dreaming of It Yet? (PART I)