BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
A new musical that opened Thursday at the Little Shubert Theatre, “Lucky Guy” blithely hee-haws along a well-worn narrative path:
Seeking fame as a songwriter, innocent Billy Ray arrives in Nashville only to stumble into the clutches of Big Al, a greedy wheeler-dealer, and Jeannie Jeannine, a glamazon country music star on the wane, both of whom are in cahoots to steal the kid’s surefire song hit.
Prosaic though his plotting happens to be, writer-composer-director Willard Beckham gives his script and staging of the musical enough of a comical rainbow twist to make “Lucky Guy” into an amiable hootenanny with a big emphasis on the hoot. The storyline is strictly heterosexual, but Beckham’s silly, frilly treatment of it is very gay indeed.
Let’s begin (as does the show) with the four glossy chorus boys known as The Buckaroos, who expertly sing and dance in tight harmony and even tighter costumes. They are embodied by Callan Bergmann, Xavier Cano, Wes Hart and Joshua Woodie, and each and every one is a Dream Curly.
Let’s proceed to the Big Al portrayed by pint-sized Leslie Jordan of “Will & Grace” and “My Trip Down the Pink Carpet” fame, who is typically huffy and puffy and enjoying a Grand Old Opry-time sashaying around in flashy duds while being perfectly wicked.
Next is the tempestuous Jeannie – a raging star with a Secret – as immensely impersonated by Varla Jean Merman, a statuesque entertainer with the aka of Jeffery Roberson. Sweeping around in “Hello Dollywood”-style gowns wittily designed by William Ivey Long – wait until you see the denim frock for “Blue Jean Blues” – La Merman’s country music queen is every talented inch a larger than life diva.
These outlandish figures are complimented by the straightforward performances given by handsome Kyle Dean Massey as the starry-eyed songwriter, a pert Savannah Wise as the local girl who loves him and a good-old-boyish Jim Newman as a bankrupt music publisher. Jenn Colella portrays Newman’s gung-ho fiancée with a Dogpatch accent and a daffy intensity that’s a mite scary.
The harum-scarum cartoon musical they populate so nicely is scarcely one for the ages. Still, the 20 or songs that Beckham provides comprise an agreeably upbeat sampler of country music tunes given tasty smokehouse flavorings in Todd Ellison’s arrangements and orchestrations for an eight-member band. The sweet, easygoing title number and a “Rememberin’ You” bluegrass ballad cling most to the ear. Meanwhile, the lively choreography by A. C. Ciulla neatly pays respects to the traditions of reels and hoedowns. There’s also an insane Hawaiian number that erupts out of nowhere just for the fun of it.
Seeing “Lucky Guy,” Off Broadway-goers with long memories may recall “When Pigs Fly” and “Whoop-Dee-Doo,” which were madcap revues of the mid-1990s written and designed by the late Howard Crabtree. This new musical is not as consistently clever as those giddy affairs, but thanks to Beckham’s canny direction and a winning company, “Lucky Guy” often achieves a similar sense of pleasant silliness.
“Lucky Guy” continues through July 24 at the Little Shubert Theatre, 422 W. 42nd St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.luckyguythemusical.com.