Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lucky Guy

I left the theatre last night sad and disappointed. Not with any aspect of Lucky Guy, every bit of which is a joy, but because I had just heard that it’s closing on Sunday, 10 days after it opened at the Little Shubert Theatre. How unfair that so much junk lingers while this fresh, winning new musical comedy is folding too soon.

All the ingredients seemed right to me -- the story is told with tongue-in-cheek glee, the jokes are funny, the performances excellent, the songs lively, and The New York Times' critic, after some fault finding, said its charms “ultimately prove difficult to resist.” Was there not enough money for marketing, or just not enough time to building an audience through words of mouth, enough to fill that theatre, which as far as Off-Broadway theatres go isn’t as little as its name would imply? (And is also considered by some to be cursed.)

The story, written (book, music and lyrics) and directed by Willard Beckham, is simple and oft-told in various forms, a handsome gosh-by-golly young singer/songwriter, Billy Ray (Kyle Dean Massey) comes to Nashville with dreams of success, falls in love with a pretty local girl, Wanda (Savannah Wise) and almost loses everything because of the greed of the town’s used car dealer, Big Al, campily played by the 4-foot, 11 Leslie Jordan.

“Folks making money on other people’s dreams” is how one song puts it. What makes the plot work so well here is how enthusiastically the cast hams it up to let us know they’re in on the fun.

I was hooked right away with the opening number, “Nashville,” sung and danced with gusto by The Buckaroos -- Callan Bergmann, Xavier Cano, Wes Hart and Joshua Woodie. These amazing dancers appear often and are always a treat, especially as tap dancing Indians in headdresses and beaded loin clothes. Terrific choreography by A.C. Ciulla.

Another hoot of a performance is given by Varla Jean Merman (the drag character of Jeffrey Roberson; in photo with Jordan) as Miss Jeannie Jeannine, the Queen of Country Music who hasn’t had a hit in years (and actually only had one hit ever). To prove her identity with her working class fans she lives in a mobile home -- with 28 rooms that she proudly says was featured in Mobile Homes and Gardens. It’s her “monument to humility,” which Billy Ray admiringly calls “a mansion with four-wheel drive.”

Miss Jeannie Jeannine has a secret past life that is revealed in the second act, just another of the hilarious bits in this quirky little show. Her costumes -- she has 19! -- and all of the rest, by William Ivy Long, are country-looking perfect.

This is a musical an entire family could enjoy together. Rob Bissinger’s sets have a cartoonish quality in keeping with the playfulness of the rest of the show. I truly hope Beckham finds some “one in a million, needle in a haystack,” to quote from another song, producers to believe in this show and bring it back in a smaller space where it can grow and even move on to Broadway.

And I want everyone involved to know that my friend Maureen and I had a great time. We laughed -- and laughed -- and I walked home singing the songs in my head. Thank you for that. Any musical theatre lover in town this weekend should take advantage of this last -- for now only, I hope -- chance to see this good-time show.

Tickets are on sale through or at (212) 239-6200 and at The Little Shubert Theatre box office, 422 W. 42nd St., from noon to 6 p.m.

Visit Lucky Guy online at

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