Review: DESPERATE MEASURES at The Winter Park Playhouse

A rollicking, hilarious and superbly performed musical comedy that is sure to leave you in stitches playing now through June 11th

By: Jun. 04, 2023
Review: DESPERATE MEASURES at The Winter Park Playhouse

Review: DESPERATE MEASURES at The Winter Park Playhouse Sometimes a production comes along that finds the perfect synergy between content, cast and creative vision ultimately delivering an elevated theatrical experience. And when that show is lesser known, but wildly entertaining that makes this perfect alignment seem even more rare. I am thrilled to say that The Winter Park Playhouse has found just such a production in DESPERATE MEASURES, the final offering in its 20th season. This rollicking, hilarious and superbly performed musical comedy is sure to thrill and shows off why The Winter Park Playhouse is truly a gem in the Orlando theatre community.

Review: DESPERATE MEASURES at The Winter Park Playhouse I was woefully unfamiliar with DESPERATE MEASURES going into the show, which, to be honest, these days is actually a thrill for me. Getting to experience a show cold takes me back to when I sat in a theatre and witnessed some of my now favorite musicals for the very first time. But lack of familiarity with this show does not hinder its ability to entertain one iota. The musical comedy, with music by David Friedman and book and lyrics by Peter Kellogg, played a critically acclaimed run Off-Broadway in 2017 – 2018, garnering Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. It is the perfect show for a theatre like The Winter Park Playhouse – intimate, straightforward, and raucously entertaining.

Review: DESPERATE MEASURES at The Winter Park Playhouse The musical, based on William Shakespeare’s comedy MEASURE FOR MEASURE, is set in the late 1800’s in the Arizona Territory where Johnny Blood (Robert Justin Dresner) has been jailed for shooting and killing a man (over the love of a woman – saloon girl Bella Rose (Hannah McGinley Lemasters). Johnny is to hang soon, if the kind and resourceful Sheriff Green (Charles Stevens) can’t work out a way to get him released. Enter Susanna (Hannah Laird), Johnny’s estranged sister, a novice who is on the verge of taking her vows to be a nun who decides to do what she can to help save her brother’s life. Upon the Sheriff’s urging, Susanna pleads with the strict Governor (Alexander Mrazek) for clemency but gets more than she bargained for – an offer to set Johnny free if she would share his bed for one night. Appalled and disillusioned, Susanna and Sherriff Green cook up a scheme to replace her with Bella Rose “In the Dark” – fulfilling the bargain and freeing Johnny without having to give up her chastity. As with the original Shakespeare tale, things don’t go as they plan, hilarity ensues leading to more trickery, culminating in a happy ending for almost everyone.

There is so much to love about this production – David Friedman’s music is catchy and fun and Peter Kellogg’s book and lyrics, while sometimes goofy, are exciting to experience. Mr. Kellogg has written the dialog in rhyming couplets, mimicking Shakespeare’s common style – allowing the content to be accessible and funny while nodding to the play’s inspiration. Roy Alan’s direction of Winter Park’s DESPERATE MEASURES is solid and he should be thoroughly applauded for bringing together such an absolutely stellar cast.

Review: DESPERATE MEASURES at The Winter Park Playhouse Speaking of the cast – I can’t recall a more capable, talented and thrilling bunch of actors. They are, to a person, incredible. As Johnny Blood, Robert Justin Dresner provides us a bad boy who you can’t help but love. As his sister, Susanna, Hannah Laird is headstrong and stubborn but in a way that still illustrates she cares. Her chemistry on stage with Charles Stevens as Sheriff Green ensures every scene together feels electrified – echoing the “will they or won’t they” storylines from so many classic books and films. Mr. Stevens gives a solid delivery as the loveable lawman making audiences cheer on his onstage endeavors. As Bella Rose, Hannah McGinley Lemasters is a hoot-and-a-half. Her facial expressions alone can raise a laugh from the audience and she portrays the simple but savvy saloon girl the way you imagine some of the comedy queens from Broadway’s golden age might - bringing a smile on your face every time she enters. Alexander Mrazek is pitch perfect as the German-born Governor and is a villain that you love to hate. And finally, as the Irish priest who has lost his faith, locked up for public drunkenness, Brandon Roberts shows off his physical comedy prowess and creates a character that the audience eats up whenever he’s on stage. All six of the actors have the chance to display their phenomenal singing voices and acting chops – infusing each number with a quality and energy that set the perfect tone for the night.

The creative team for Winter Park’s DESPERATE MEASURES sets the stage perfectly for this Wild West musical romp. CJ Sikorski’s scenic design is the perfect send up of Spaghetti Westerns or even better, Mel Brook’s classic BLAZING SADDLES.  J. Adam Smith’s sound design and Sarah Griffin’s lighting punctuate the evening perfectly and  Monica Titus’ costumes work perfectly in the setting. Finally, musical director Christopher Leavy, as always, leads a fantastic live band that delivers the country-flavored score perfectly.

Overall, DESPERATE MEASURES at The Winter Park Playhouse is pure entertainment. It is fast-paced, funny and delivered by a fabulous cast who leave the audience in stitches and wanting more. But with only one weekend left in its run, don’t miss the chance to see this wonderful production with this brilliant cast.

Review: DESPERATE MEASURES at The Winter Park Playhouse

DESPERATE MEASURES, presented by The Winter Park Playhouse, runs through June 11th. Tickets range from $39 to $46 ($20 for Industry, Student and Active Military). Performances take place at The Winter Park Playhouse which is located at 711 Orange Avenue Suite C Winter Park, FL 32789. Tickets can be purchased by visiting Click Here or calling (407) 645-0145. 

All Photos: Michael Cairns Photography

Header Photo - (L to R) Hannah Laird,  Robert Justin Dresner, Hannah McGinley Lemasters, Charles Stevens, Brandon Roberts, Alexander Mrazek

Top Photo : (L to R) Charles Stevens, Hannah Laird

Mid Photo 1: (L to R) Robert Justin Dresner, Brandon Roberts

Mid Photo 2: (L to R) Hannah Laird, Hannah McGinley Lemasters

Mid Photo 3: Alexander Mrazek

Bottom Photo: (L to R) Robert Justin Dresner, Hannah McGinley Lemasters, Brandon Roberts, Alexander Mrazek, Charles Stevens/ Hannah Laird


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From This Author - Joseph Harrison

Joseph Harrison has been involved with the theatre in some form or fashion all his life. He holds a Journalism degree from the University of Georgia, but his true love is the theatre which he has been... Joseph Harrison">(read more about this author)


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