“Desperate Measures,” which is running at Manoa Valley Theatre through Feb. 6, is a delightful pleasure and a theatrical treasure, with Shakespearean origins but updated and set in an 1800s Wild West saloon loaded with likable critters.
This one had been on the MVT shelf for more than two years; it was scheduled to run in 2019 but was pushed back because of the pandemic crisis, and also scooted off the 2020-21 season, too. Considering the fact that this was dubbed a “problematic” play by The Bard himself back in the day, when “the play’s the thing” was the quote of the era, one wonders, was it jinxed?
In 2022, the playout’s the thing. The show’s Hawaii premiere ultimately is a jolly jewel.
A modest musical by David Friedman and Peter Kellogg, it is mounted with sprightly direction and choreography by Miles Phillips. He has corralled a lively, lovely and luminous cast, clearly enjoying the see-sawing pendulum of silliness and sentiment involving a handsome Johnny Blood (Drew Niles, conniving and raucous but contagiously delightful), jailed for allegedly killing Big Swede, which he insists was self-defense, but could be hanged for the crime. The local sheriff Martin Green (Garrett Taketa, exuding sympathetic logic) tries to help Blood’s nun of a sister, Sister Mary Jo, aka Susanna (Christine Kluvo, possessing a sweet voice and an honest demeanor), who’s trying to overturn the hanging by requesting leniency from the Germanic Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber (enacted by an effectively sleazy Garrett Hols).
Of course, there are complications galore.
A saloon fave, Bella Rose (Alexandria Zinov, a charmer in looks, sexiness, and shenanigans), is talked into becoming a stand-in for Mary Jo to have sex with the Gov, to use that as a wedge for undoing Johnny Blood’s hanging. The victim was her boyfriend.
While the Gov tries to woo Mary Jo, she becomes smitten — Lord willing — with the Sheriff. Meanwhile, Johnny Blood also has the hots for Bella and she’s open to a new beau.
There are expected gags, with chastity and fidelity as core issues; the real Mary Jo and the faux one have dance moments and also engage in a mirror routine, wearing identical wedding white dress wear, and borrowing the Marx Brothers’ classic mirror gimmick from the classic “Duck Soup” film, enacting reflective movements to foil the Gov. It’s a bit crude, but an effective gag.
When the German-accented Gov utters he wants to “Make Arizona Great Again,” there’s a ring of current familiarity and wonderment of slogan ownership.
Andrew Doan’s single saloon set, with a bar and walkway to a second level of brothels, creates the right atmosphere for the period piece; the four-piece house band, led by Jenny Shiroma, is stationed just inside the theater’s entrance/exit. A simple desk is the Gov’s office on the opposite side, with window panes alternating projection views of the outdoors or a church’s stain glass. A movable jail cell – where the imprisoned Johnny Blood spends most of his time with a drunken priest — is wheeled in when needed.
Jennifer Hart’s and Kimmerie Jones’ costumes, notably the frou-frou of the saloon dames, reflect an element of the Wild West, and Lisa Ponce de Leon’s hair and makeup define the era. Lighting by Jonah Bobilin and sound design by Lock Lynch brighten and enhance the visual and audible experience.
Some of the dialogue is delivered in couplets, but understandable to modern audiences unlike Shakespearean times; there’s a cadre of plot-moving tunes in the score by Kellogg and Friedman, but nothing hummable on the way home..
The show earned the Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Musical and for Outstanding Lyrics, the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical, and Off-Broadway Alliance Award for Best New Musical. These accolades are warranted, by any measure. If you’re searching for a funfest, you’ll embrace “Desperate Measures.”
And that’s Show Biz. …