“Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater critic by night- with my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.
I’m back from vacation and I have some theater news for you- as it was also a working vacation. I was invited to see a world premiere of a new play in West Palm Beach, Florida, called ‘Billy and Me’ written by Terry Teachout, who is also the Wall Street Journal’s theater critic. This is the second play he has written. The first, ‘Satchmo at the Waldorf,’ is a one man show about Louis Armstrong. I caught it a couple of years ago at Long Wharf in New Haven and enjoyed it.
‘Billy & Me’ is Teachout’s imagining of the conversations that took place in the 1940’s and 50’s between famed playwrights William Inge and Tennessee Williams. It still needs further development but it’s one to watch for when it does make its way to our region.
And I have another show to tell you about of which I could say the same thing.
Previously I mentioned I sometimes see shows because several people have told me I “need” to see that show. A great example was when Summer Theater of New Canaan- which I confess was barely even on my radar screen- put on a terrific performance of ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’ My friends were right!
This week I saw a show that both theater insiders and my theater-loving friends told me I should see. I had previously seen it in a workshop presentation in New York. This time it had a full-fledged production by the York Theatre Company on Manhattan’s East Side. It’s called ‘Desperate Measures’ and, like ‘Billy & Me,’ it just closed December 31st.
But ‘Desperate Measures’ had extended- 4 times!- so they had a run of several months; rare for an Off-Broadway musical. The pre-show announcement strongly implied the show will be resurfacing somewhere soon and I know there is already serious interest from regional theaters- so you will certainly have an opportunity to catch it someplace soon.
Why the hype for ‘Desperate Measures’? For one, the music is a joy. David Friedman wrote the music and Peter Kellogg wrote the lyrics and most of the numbers were pure fun. Fans of TV’s ‘The Today Show’ will recognize David Friedman as a regular guest performing songs he co-writes with Kathie Lee Gifford every month.
The plot is cheeky and tongue-in-cheek- inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘Measure for Measure’- but book writer Kellogg has set it as a Western Musical in the Arizona Territories of the late 1800’s. Director Bill Castellino has taken the “all for fun and fun for all” approach and let the cast run with it.
When Johnny Blood- cheerfully overacted by Conor Ryan- tries to protect his gal, the prostitute and dancer Bella, he ends up killing her would-be assaulter and faces the death penalty. And the only way to save Johnny- says the evil Governor- is if Johnny’s sister gives up her chastity and sleeps with him for a night. Note- Sister Mary Jo is not just Johnny’s sister- she is about to take her vows to be a nun! Playing Sister Mary Jo for serious fun is Emma Degerstedt, who also has an excellent singing voice.
Luckily there is a kind-hearted sheriff, amiably acted at the show I saw by Anthony Festa- coming across with the “aw shucks” like Luke Wilson. The sheriff devises a way to fool the Governor by having Bella pretend to be Johnny’s sister for the night to win his freedom. Naturally, after a few more plot twists, it all turns out for the best and everyone leaves the theater smiling.
If you like your tongue in your cheek and a “feel good” ending, this is a great show. I wasn’t quite that enamored with it but, like a sarsaparilla, it’s sweet and fizzy and I give ‘Desperate Measures’ 3-and-a-half stars out of 5.
Catch my reviews right here this time each week and on my Facebook page and website, Katz Reviews dot com, that’s K-A-T-Z Reviews dot com, where you will find all my WICC 600 reviews.
This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”