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Desperate Measures

Delightful high-powered, foot-tapping Broadway-style musical turns Shakespeare’s dark comedy “Measure for Measure” into a sunny classic western.

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Peter Saide, Emma Degerstedt and Conor Ryan in a scene from “Desperate Measures” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

[avatar user=”Victor Gluck” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief[/avatar]Desperate Measures takes Shakespeare’s dark, problem play Measure for Measure and shakes it up into a delightfully high-powered, foot-tapping Broadway-style Western musical with a sunny disposition. Peter Kellogg’s book and lyrics are made up of witty and clever rhymed couplets and David Friedman’s music is a tuneful combination of foot-tapping country-western songs and Broadway ballads. Under Bill Castellino’s fast-paced and assured direction, the cast of six led by Broadway veteran Nick Wyman, makes this musical a great deal of fun. As an entertainment, it is certainly a great deal more so than the source material though it makes most of the same points.

Set in a Western territory in the late 1880’s, Johnny Blood, a hot-tempered young cowboy has been sentenced to be hanged in two days’ time for killing a man while defending his girlfriend, dance hall performer Bella, in a bar fight. His sister Susanna now known as Sister Mary Jo, a novice nun about to take orders at a nearby mission, is convinced by stalwart Sheriff Green to plead for his life with the governor, a strict German, both corrupt and inflexible. The governor offers to pardon Johnny if Sister Mary Jo will spend one night with him. Ready to reject this offer, she is convinced by the Sheriff that they should find one of the saloon girls to take her place in the classic bed trick. When Bella, Johnny Blood’s girlfriend, agrees to take on the task, things get complicated but all’s well that ends well for all except one dastardly individual.

Nick Wyman and Emma Degerstedt in a scene from “Desperate Measures” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Desperate Measures has been impeccably cast with a great deal of unfamiliar talent who should be better known. As the heroine who finds herself falling in love with the staunch and stouthearted sheriff, Emma Degerstedt reveals a lovely soprano particularly in her solo, “What Is This Feeling” while showing a feisty spirit in her sparring with the man she dares not love. So too, tall handsome Peter Saide’s rich baritone wraps itself around his solo, “Stop There” while he creates an endearing hero. As the dance hall girl with the flexible morals, spirited Lauren Molina (who also gives as good as she gets) does a sensational strip tease to “It’s Getting Hot in Here” as well as impressing in “Just For You,” her duet with her jailed boyfriend.

As a young hooligan whose wings have now been clipped, Conor Ryan is a tempestuous Johnny Blood giving full voice to his “Good to Be Alive.” Gary Marachek is amusing as Father Morse who likes his liquor and his Friedrich Wilhelm Nietsche both a little too much. Although Wyman has some clever material, his very thick German accent makes his songs, “Some Day They Will Thank Me” and “What a Night,” a little difficult to understand.

Lauren Molina and Conor Ryan in a scene from “Desperate Measures” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

James Morgan has designed an attractive unit set which transforms into the governor’s office, jail, saloon and mission, among other locales. Nicole Wee’s costumes are redolent of the period as well as flattering to the actors. With David Hancock Turner as a fine pianist, conductor, and orchestrator, the four man band includes guitar, banjo, double bass, fiddle and mandolin.

While not all musicals from Shakespeare have worked and updates are particularly risky, Desperate Measures avoids all of the pitfalls and is a refreshing and satisfying work in its own right. The catchy score has superb songs in the vein of the best of the Broadway Western musical.  It is hoped the show has a long life beyond this production, like its young hero, in years to come.

Desperate Measures (extended through December 31, 2017)

York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s, 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-935-5820 or visit

Running time: two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission

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About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (989 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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