Review: North Coast Rep’s ‘Desperate Measures’ musical a light and clever twist on Shakespeare

The cast of "Desperate Measures" at North Coast Repertory Theatre
The cast of “Desperate Measures,” from left, Rudy Martinez, Rusty Ferracane, Samantha Duval, Jo Garcia-Reger, Elijah Rock and Michael Louis Cusimano.
(Aaron Rumley)

The Bard’s ‘Measure for Measure’ provided the framework for the tongue-in-cheek story


For some playgoers, hearing the name William Shakespeare can be intimidating, since understanding the Bard’s poetic Elizabethan text takes concentration and patience.

But Shakespeare’s influence on “Desperate Measures,” the wacky Old West musical comedy that opened at North Coast Repertory Theatre Saturday in its West Coast premiere, is minimal and in no way brain-teasing. Show co-writers Peter Kellogg and David Friedman play with Shakespearean style and conventions in a clever, funny and contemporary way, and the plot and characters have the exaggerated silliness of a Western melodrama.

The plot of “Despserate Measures” generally follows Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” where a young man, in this case Johnny Blood, is facing execution for a crime so his sister, a novitiate here named Susanna, goes to the governor to plead for his life. The corrupt governor offers to exchange a pardon for Susanna’s chastity, so the siblings and town sheriff devise a plan to disguise a prostitute named Bella Rose as Susanna for the assignation.

Samantha Duval, left, and Jo Garcia-Reger in North Coast Repertory Theatre's "Desperate Measures."
(Aaron Rumley)

The two-hour musical’s plot is paper-thin, but the fun comes in with the saloon-style songs, which, like the script, are mostly written in the Shakespeare’s style of rhyming couplets but with modern language. Under the direction of Christopher Williams, the six cast members are sincere and fully committed to their broadly written characters, and they’re all good singers and actors.

Rusty Ferracane delivers a gleefully villainous performance as the amusingly named Governor Von Richterhenkenpfichetgruber. Elijah Rock has a terrific singing voice as the town Sheriff Martin Green. Jo Garcia-Reger has a tomboyish sweetness as Susanna, Samantha Duval is playfully coquettish as saloon girl Bella Rose, Michael Louis Cusimano is endearingly dimwitted as Johnny Blood, and Rudy Martinez is the boozy priest Father Morse.

Costume designer Elisa Benzoni’s costumes — including an eye-popping pair of lederhosen — are fun and colorful. Scenic designer Marty Burnett’s set has a barnlike look with a raised platform at center stage for the four-piece Western band led by music director and keyboardist Craig Bohmler. Jill Gorrie Rovasto designed the choreography, Aaron Rumley designed sound and Matt Novotny designed lighting.

“Desperate Measures” isn’t deep or thought-provoking like Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” but maybe that’s a good thing for pandemic-weary theater-goers looking for some light entertainment.

“Desperate Measures”

When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 7 p.m. Sundays. Plus 2 p.m. Feb. 2. Through Feb. 12.

Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach

Tickets: $57-$68

Phone: (858) 481-1055