nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
May 15, 2011
All of the booze in New York wouldn’t have been enough to prepare me for Lucky Guy, a camptastic new musical written and directed by Willard Beckham.
Lucky Guy, which features the motliest assortment of talent this side of Dollywood, is the ideal show for those who’ve replayed YouTube clips of “Out for Blood” from Carrie the Musical more times than they can count and who can also recall, in extreme detail, the dancing clip art skeletons of In My Life. In short, Lucky Guy contains some of the most awesomely awe-striking badness you’ll ever see. And it’s in this badness that the show proves mightily entertaining.
The Nashville-set musical is about a group of dreamers. Billy Ray (Kyle Dean Massey) a farm boy from Hominy, Oklahoma, has just arrived after winning a songwriting contest sponsored by a no-name record label, run by a former UPS delivery man named G.C. (Jim Newman). G.C’s lady friend of 13 years, a wigmaker named Chicky (Jenn Colella) dreams of one day becoming the next big country singer. His secretary Wanda (Savannah Wise) just wants to fall in love and is instantly smitten when Billy Ray arrives. Complicating matters are a pair of comic villains, Big Al (Leslie Jordan), a diminutive used car dealership mogul determined to foil his cousin G.C’s plans, and Miss Jeannie Jeannine (Varla Jean Merman), a former queen of country music determined to win back her fame.
If you’re one of those people I described above, just wait until you see the gospel-inspired first act finale, complete with shiny tambourines, fog, glitter, and dancing angels (the costumes are designed by William Ivey Long, the master of glittery, outrageous wardrobe, and the clever, cartoony, cotton-candy-colored sets are designed by Rob Bissinger). There are earlier examples, like when the four buff ensemble men (called “The Buckaroos”) enter in Native American headdress and loincloths and begin chanting “Hi How Are Ya, Hi How Are Ya.” Then they start tap dancing.
The book scenes don’t really work; they’re too long, duller than dull, and only seem to serve as set up for songs. Luckily, Beckham’s score is stronger, jaunty and hummable in the way that most simple country melodies are. The lyrics are comical, in many cases for the wrong reasons. (“They call me blue Jean / Cause I miss you, Gene / Now that we’re through, Gene / I’ve got the Blue Jean Blues,” sings Jeannie Jeannine.)
Lucky Guy’s greatest asset is that absolutely nothing is taken seriously. Merman, who plays Jeannie without any winks to the fact that she’s really a man, and Jordan, who has a host of very clever entrances, have the audience in the palms of their hands from their first steps on stage. Massey, who, at the performance I attended, received cat calls when he changed shirts, has strong chemistry with the cute-as-a-button Wise. Colella and Newman are delightful as the long-standing couple still in love.
Lucky Guy will certainly go down into the annals of musical theater. Whether it's for positive or negative reasons just depends on your love of the outrageous.