“Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure,” this rambunctious musical is a blend of dialogue in clever, conversational verse (as well as traditional delivery), articulate (not highfaultin’) lyrics, irrepressible comedy (from wry to adept slapstick), infectious tunes, and characters who are rarely as simple as they seem. GO.
Conor Ryan, Gary Marachek
We find ourselves in the late 1800s out West: cue horse neighs, wagon wheels, a fiddle in the band. A noose drops from the ceiling. Poor Johnny Blood (Conor Ryan) has drunkenly killed a man who was molesting his girl, saloon singer/prostitute Bella Rose (Lauren Molina). That it was self defense is irrelevant to Governor Von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber (Nick Wyman as Shakespeare’s Angelo), aka “the hanging Hun,” who feels every crime is punishable, if only to keep the slate clean. We’re treated to a gleefully villainous comic turn the likes of which has not been seen in song since Captain Hook. Sweet, dense Johnny, cooling his heels in The End of the Trail Jail, will hang.
Peter Saide, Emma Degerstedt
The hapless prisoner shares his cell with Father Morse (Gary Marachek), whose crisis of faith provokes him to regularly get soused while quoting philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche on nihilism and the death of God. (You heard me.) This is so nimbly dealt with its later influence on the plot actually works.
Sheriff Martin Green (Peter Saide) goes in sympathetic search of Johnny’s estranged sister Susanna (Emma Degerstedt as Shakespeare’s Isabella ), the only living relative who might speak to the governor on her brother’s behalf. At Our Lady of The Tumbleweeds, he meets the young woman, now novitiate Sister Mary Jo (after her mother). She’s as cold and stubborn as they come, but Green convinces her. Like many changed resolutions in the play, we actually witness brief internal struggle uncommon to musicals.
Nick Wyman, Emma Degerstedt
Sister Mary Jo is repeatedly pushed (by Green) into the Governor’s office as she retreats in response to every refusal. Goaded, she at last shows some emotion with “Look Into Your Heart” an appealing Disney-like number. His honor, observing a chink in her armor, agrees that if the novitiate loses her chastity to him, he’ll release Johnny. “Righteousness,” he comments, “is overmatched by lust.” She’s appalled. The sheriff, however, has a bait-and-switch plan to substitute Bella Rose at the last minute (a la Shakespeare). “They say all cats are gray at night.” The triste scene is filled with shenanigans.
Peter Saide, Lauren Molina, Emma Degerstedt
Green is attracted to the Sister who discovers herself not immune to a burgeoning, if adversarial romance. Push/pull scenes and songs showcase this with droll finesse. The Governor unexpectedly falls in love with his secretly practiced bed mate and demands a new deal. Emotions erupt with a pinball effect. Further deception is required to reach an inevitably happy ending.
Peter Kellogg’s libretto is accomplished. The writer manages to be adult (i.e. absurd, not stupid), funny, and poetic at the same time. His verse never takes the easy route, yet remains plain spoken. Each song in its place accomplishes something and moves the story forward. David Friedman’s mixture of Broadway-like numbers and ho downs work together seamlessly. Arrangements, especially those serving multiple voices, are thoroughly appealing. Musicianship is excellent.
Emma Degerstedt, Lauren Molina, Conor Ryan
Director/Choreographer Bill Castellino, (recently of Cagney), clearly understands farce. The production is festooned with priceless comic freeze frames, captivating stage business, and general high spirits without becoming a cartoon. Characters are manifest physically as well as emotionally. The stage is well utilized. A later dance involving the two women is vivacious fun.
Emma Degerstedt (Sister Mary Jo) plays pompous reserve with just the right tone and appears just as credible questioning unexpected attraction. Wisely, she never morphs into a starry-eyed romantic. The actress’s reactions seem to occur in real time. She has an opalescent voice.
Lauren Molina infuses Bella Rose with gritty sweetness. She moves and gestures like dance hall, pulls off a modest strip with exuberance, and sings with rustic bravado. Comic timing is keen.
Nick Wyman, Peter Saide, Emma Degerstedt, Conor Ryan, Lauren Molina, Gary Marachek
Conor Ryan makes Johnny Blood’s naiveté flawless. Loose limbs, ingenuous expression, and hardy vocals make characterization astute.
Gary Marachek (Father Morse) is the kind of vocalist/actor/comic journeyman on whom one could depend under any circumstances. He brings it home with understatement and flair.
Peter Saide’s Sheriff Martin Green is the heart throb of the piece. Imagine a singing Gary Cooper with facial hair. His amble is natural, his baritone splendid. The actor has a watchfulness that emits subtle response to things left unsaid.
Nick Wyman (Governor Von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber) is a treasure. Really, you can’t take your eyes off him. Wyman has a resonant voice, poses and prances with silent film skill, twinkles despite solid presence, and never stretches believibility too far. He’s stage catnip.
Scenic Design by the York’s own James Morgan is charming from the barn-like, wood- slatted stage to artful, painted cardboard cut-outs. Nicole Wee’s Costumes are good looking, appropriate, and worthy of a Broadway house.
A call-out is due to Casting Director Carol Hanzel for this multi-talented, symbiotic group who also look just as we might imagine their characters.
There’s no credit for a dialogue coach. This cast delivers in spades, even when singing.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Gary Marachek, Emma Degerstedt, Nick Wyman, Conor Ryan, Peter Saide, Lauren Molina
Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure
Book and Lyrics- Peter Kellogg
Music- David Friedman
Directed and Choreographed by Bill Castellino
Music Direction/Orchestrations- David Hancock Turner
Musicians: David Hancock Turner, Justin Rothberg, Joseph Wallace, Douglas Waterbury-Tieman
The York Theatre Company
619 Lexington Avenue (entrance on 54th Street)
Limited Run through October 15, 2017