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‘Desperate Measures’ review: Shakespeare adaptation a pleasant surprise

More than a decade after playing the New York Musical Festival, the reworked show is experiencing a resurgence at New World Stages.

Lauren Molina and Connor Ryan in

Lauren Molina and Connor Ryan in "Desperate Measures." Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

“Desperate Measures” may not be one of the best musical adaptations of a Shakespeare play, but it’s a well-meaning comedy with one hell of a comeback story.

Back in 2006, I caught several new works at the New York Musical Festival (then in its infancy), one of which was “Desperate Measures,” a pocket-size musical by David Friedman and Peter Kellogg that remade Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” — a dark drama of injustice, moral corruption and bed-swapping trickery — into a gun-toting, cheesy Western.

I found it cute but insubstantial and never expected to ever come across it again. After all, few shows that premiere as part of a high-volume, low-budget theater festival such as FringeNYC or NYMF (i.e. “Urinetown,” “Next to Normal,”) advance to higher-profile runs.

Last year, a reworked version of “Desperate Measures” was produced by Off-Broadway’s York Theatre Company, and now it has transferred to New World Stages for an open-ended commercial Off-Broadway run. Owing to slim competition, the production even won Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards.

The only remaining cast member from 2006 is Broadway veteran Nick Wyman, who is gleefully villainous as the German-accented governor who demands that nun-to-be Susanna (Sarah Parnicky, who makes for a plucky heroine) sleep with him in exchange for sparing the life of her brother, cowboy Johnny Blood (a sad-sack Conor Ryan).

Rhyming verse now serves as dialogue, which adds to the tongue-in-cheek tone. As in the earlier production, the highlight is “All For You,” a tuneful duet between Johnny Blood and his saloon girl girlfriend, Bella Rose (a rambunctious Lauren Molina).

All things considered, “Desperate Measures” (directed and choreographed with zest by Bill Castellino) remains a high-energy but hackneyed trifle with a mostly underwhelming score and a one-joke mentality. Nevertheless, its unexpected return should serve as an inspiration for aspiring and struggling musical theater writers.

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