Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and updated to the Old West, Desperate Measures is a delightful musical with music by David Friedman, book and lyrics by Peter Kellogg, and directed by Bill Castellino.
Having moved to New World Stages from the York Theater, the show hinges on anti-hero Johnny Blood possibly facing hanging as a result of an act of self-defense in a saloon brawl. Blatantly buzzing around Johnny are a woozy priest waiting for a letter from Nietzsche, an earnest novitiate (who happens to be Johnny’s sister), an extraordinarily sleazy governor, a deadpan, well-meaning sheriff, and Johnny’s girlfriend, a bar whore with a heart of gold, all competing for their stake in this nutty melodrama.
The plot has sis arranging to faux-shtupp the governor in order to gain her brother’s freedom, while plotting to switch with the bar whore in the dark at the last minute. It’s all pretty ridiculous, but those doings (and the repercussions) are presented in a spirited fashion, and with a lovely (and sometimes funny) score, as well as dialogue amazingly pulled off in rhyming couplets à la the bard himself.
The cast is game, especially Conor Ryan as Johnny, and Lauren Molina as his gal, Bella. Molina’s a riot, especially in a number where she takes off an article of clothing with every line, and also in a mirror-image bit with the nun, which is a bit like an old Here’s Lucy sketch. She and Ryan also score in the song “Just For You,” where they declare that they’ve done everything for the other person, including a lot of banging. Nick Wyman also has fun as Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber, a total sleazebag who urges, “Make Arizona great again.” I read a review that complained that the show is uncomfortable to watch in the #MeToo era, but let me make this clear: The villain is a piggish male who is presented as a despicable buffoon. The women are part of a plan to outsmart him, which they nimbly do, using all their wiles. It all works out. Got it?
Puppet Masters and Alvin Ailey Magic
Puppeteer extraordinaire Basil Twist’s Symphonie Fantastique show has found a home for the summer at Here, where it premiered 20 years ago. At a special performance last week, downtown luminaries gathered, like Billy Erb, Scott Ewalt, Lavinia Co-op, Angela Di Carlo, Michael Wakefield, Penny Arcade, and Scooter Laforge, to revel in the sumptuously surreal work filled with shimmery, sparkly, swirling underwater-looking images that move seamlessly in a large onstage tank, writhing along with Christopher O’Riley’s amazing piano playing. After the show, Twist brought out his five puppeteers and welcomed the audience to go backstage and see how things are done. I preferred to stay a wondrous kid and not be demystified on the whole thing. It made me feel young (if stupid).
I also caught an Alvin Ailey evening at the David H. Koch Theater and thrilled to their performances of En, A Case of You, and Shelter, three diverse works filled with percussive passion, precision, and resonance. The audience cheered for the extraordinary dancers, who have been fighting for equitable pay raises and deserve every penny. En—a new work with choreography by Jessica Lang, with the dancers spinning and gyrating in white outfits to a haunting drumbeat—was a particularly head-spinning treat.