WINTER PARK — The comedy musical Desperate Measures has all the right theatrical ingredients for a big hit — a rebel gunslinger awaiting execution after a fierce duel over his gal, a wily sheriff who hopes to convince the arrogant governor to issue a pardon — and a nun.
Oh, and a frisky barroom dancer who understands what it takes to survive in a man’s world.
Desperate Measures, the hit Off-Broadway musical comedy, is closing out the 20th Anniversary Series at the Winter Park Playhouse, running now through June 11, and it’s a fitting way to end what’s been a delightful season at this theater. In fact, you’ll definitely want to catch Desperate Measures during it’s run, since it has a cast that could write the book on comedic timing and bawdy gestures, making this an uproarious way to end the Playhouse’s season.
What is the Musical Desperate Measures?
Winner of the 2018 Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards, the show by playwright Peter Kellogg and composer David Friedman is making a return to the Playhouse. Set in the Arizona territory in the late 1800s, it opens with Johnny Blood in the local jail, having been sentenced to death for fatally shooting another man. Johnny insists it was in self defense as they were both fighting over his gal Bella Rosa, the local dancer who knows her way around a man.
Sheriff Green is sympathetic to Johnny, and thinks a last minute plea for clemency to the governor is worth a shot, so he enlists Johnny’s sister Susanna, who is in training to become a nun. It takes some convincing to get the feisty and morally righteous Susanna to approach the governor, but she does — and gets far more than she bargained for as the play transitions beautifully into a French bedroom farce, with lots of zany plot twists and attempts to pull the wool over the governor’s frosty eyes.
Loosely based on Shakespeare’s comedy Measure for Measure, the play benefits from plenty of crazy side jaunts — a drunken priest, references to Friedrich Nietzsche, the German governor’s hilariously campy bed, even a spoof on the classic mirror scene from the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup — that keep the audience is high laughter mode.
And then again, in the hands of the Winter Park Playhouse, the laughs truly rise to the occasion.
What Works In this Winter Park Playhouse Production?
As can be expected, director Roy Alan keeps the show moving at lightning speed, and there’s a marvelous set by C.J. Sikorski that transitions between the jail and the governor’s lavish bedroom, plus some eye-popping costumes by Monica Titus. All told, it’s as professional and classy a production as it gets.
But then there’s the cast, the true icing on this luxury cake.
The Playhouse has assembled a virtuoso collection of talented actors and singers, and each one delivers something unique to the show. Robert Justin Dresner as the condemned Johnny gives us a hot tempted gunslinger (particularly when his lady is involved) who isn’t afraid to cry (sob even) when things don’t go his way, while Charles Stevens is the closest we get to a “straight man” as the sheriff. He certainly does a lot of plotting and scheming for a lawman, mostly because he doesn’t much like the pompous governor.
And speaking of the governor, what a glorious performance Alexander Mrazek gives as the arrogant, haughty and thick-accented German who won’t offer any pardons unless there’s something it for him –and once he sees how durn pretty Johnny’s sister is, he instantly figures out what he wants. Yes, Susanna may be decked out in a nun’s habit and has been addressing him in a formal, morally virtuous way, but the governor’s dirty mind is on steroids. The scene where he frolicks in bed hoping to entice Susanna is a scream, and part of what makes the scene work is the performance by Hannah Laird as the deeply humiliated Susanha; she has some of the best comedic timing in the show.
Hannah McGInley Lemasters as the down to earth, street wise Bella Rose and Brandon Roberts as a frequently intoxicated Father Morse are both exceptional scene stealers and have their own moments of exquisite hilarity. Together, this cast provides audiences with a lot to guffaw about for two hours.
Where Can I See Desperate Measures?
Desperate Measures is being performed at The Winter Park Playhouse, 711 Orange Ave. Suite C in Winter Park, now through June 11.
Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday matinee performances at 2 p.m. and select Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Ticket prices are $46 for evening shows, $43 for seniors during evening shows, $39 for matinees, and $20 for student and theatrical industry professionals. Student rush “$10@10” offers $10 tickets (for students 15 to 25 years) will be available 10 minutes prior to a performance when seats are available.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.