Metro Weekly

‘Desperate Measures’ is a Rip-Roaring Good Time (Review)

Constellation hits a bullseye with "Desperate Measures," a fun, frolicsome musical-comedy Western inspired by Shakespeare.

Desperate Measure -- Photo: DJ Corey
Desperate Measures — Photo: DJ Corey

Shakespearean romance and intrigue meet Mel Brooks-style slapstick in Constellation’s rip-roaring production of Peter Kellogg and David Friedman’s Desperate Measures. Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, the show was an award-winning hit in its original 2017 Off-Broadway production.

Heavily paring down the plot of old Will’s 420-year old problem play, Kellogg’s book and lyrics relocate the tale of crime and punishment from ducal Vienna to an archetypal Wild West town in 1890’s Arizona.

Composer Friedman supplies a versatile score of country western-inflected tunes, that vary in style from a lonesome cowboy ballad to a Disney villain number to a comic burlesque for saloon singer, Bella, infused with just a hint of Madeline Kahn’s Lili Von Shtupp from Blazing Saddles.

A few of the banjo-plunking songs sound ready-made for Kermit the Frog, who, along with his Muppet friends, would fit right in with the well-choreographed shenanigans of Allison Arkell Stockman’s zany yet properly tense and romantic production.

But until somebody gifts us the Muppet version of Desperate Measures, Constellation offers its own Electric Mayhem in the show’s spirited four-player band, led by music director Refiye Tappan on piano, with some fine fiddling from Jason Labrador.

The band adds cheek and character to the proceedings, as does scenic designer Samuel Klaas’ charming, convertible small-scale version of a Wild West town, complete with its saloon stage, Christian mission, and town jail. Behind those bars, ne’er-do-well cowpoke Johnny Blood (Hunter Ringsmith) awaits the hangman’s noose, unless his sister, rifle-toting nun Susanna (Julia Link) can somehow manage to save him.

Luckily for her, kind-hearted Sheriff Martin Green (Tyler Dobies) is on her side, and, also, as the story progresses, in thrall to her determination, courage, and beauty. Unfortunately, for Susanna, brutish Governor Von Richterhenkenplfichtgetruber (Greg Watkins) wants her to himself, and he’s dead set on carrying out Johnny Blood’s death sentence. That is, he bargains, unless she’s willing to submit herself to a night with the governor: her chastity for her brother’s freedom.

As in Shakespeare, our heroine chooses chastity, which is none too convenient for Johnny, but a good plot turn for ramping up tension, and comedy. Susanna and the Sheriff will have to get creative in order to save both Johnny and her virtue, leading to the rousing team-up number “It Doesn’t Hurt to Try,” sung with Johnny and his fellow jailbird, the perpetually drunk priest Father Morse (Bobby Libby).

The priest also happens to be an atheist, just one amusing wrinkle on a broadly written role, well-played by Libby. Each of the characters is drawn, and performed, with vivid texture despite still squarely fitting into a type. And the entire cast seems to find the sweet spot between sendup and seriousness, giving that extra bit of oomph that keeps the ball bouncing. Not all the big swings at physical comedy hit their target, but it’s all in good fun.

Desperate Measures -- Photo: DJ Corey
Desperate Measure — Photo: DJ Corey

As resourceful novitiate Susanna and stalwart Sheriff Green, Link and Dobies sing their parts capably. They convey their love story subplot with sincerity, and, on Susanna’s part, a pleasant sense of surprise. Essaying Johnny’s saloon singer girlfriend Bella, Audrey Baker — apparently, a late addition to the cast — offers an adequate version of Bella’s supposed showstopper, “It’s Getting Hot in Here,” but otherwise holds her own among the ensemble.

Watkins appears to have the gayest time as moustache-twirling villain Von Richterhenkenplfichtgetruber, laying down his self-aggrandizing screed “Someday They Will Thank Me.”

The costuming on the character isn’t as effective as Susanna’s habit, or the sheriff’s duds, but with the way Watkins gleefully bites into the role, we can overlook the wardrobe and just enjoy the rhyming verse, Wild West crime drama, and a Shakespearean spoof where romance rules the day.

Desperate Measures (★★★★☆) runs through March 17 at the Source Theatre, 1835 14th St. NW. Tickets are $20 to $55. Call 202-204-7741, or visit

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!