Lucky Guy

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Photo Source: Joan Marcus

Any musical that includes a Hawaiian number featuring that fabulous drag queen Varla Jean Merman sporting a Carmen Miranda fruit salad on her head can't be all bad, especially when that show is supposed to be centered on country and western music. The two idioms—gay-influenced high camp and down-home regular-folks tunes—should mix about as well as oil and water, but "Lucky Guy," a nifty little show featuring book, music, lyrics, and direction by Willard Beckham, blends the disparate sensibilities into a hilarious, fun-filled spoof.

Granted, there are numerous groaners sprinkled into Beckham's purposely clichéd libretto. "I just love my antebellum," says a country-western star of her mansion-sized trailer. "Does she live here with you?" is the awful reply. The song titles can be just as creaky. "I'll Be Doing Hair Today, But I'll Be Gone Tomorrow" is a particularly execrable example. Yet Beckham's smart, wink-to-the-audience direction and his go-for-broke cast surmount these boo-boos and even revel in their awfulness, which is the mark of great camp.

The story is as familiar as that of every showbiz-oriented movie from the 1930s to the '50s. An innocent but talented hick arrives in the big city—in this case Nashville—to strike it rich by winning a songwriting contest. After hooking up with the ingénue, he falls into the clutches of a decadent diva—this is where Merman comes in—out to take advantage of his gifts and muscular body. Yes, it's silly and contrived, but Beckham and company know it and joyfully lampoon the conventions of the template and aim more than a few zingers at the soapy excesses of the country-western genre.

First and foremost, there's Merman, a plus-size delight as Jeannie Jeannine, the scheming songstress. Not only does she brilliantly put across the over-the-top takeoffs on country stars like Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette, but she actually brings a degree of veracity to the outrageous proceedings, convincing us this is a real, if somewhat large, woman, rather than a comically inspired male actor in William Ivey Long's exquisite gowns. For much of the evening, she is coupled with diminutive Leslie Jordan (of "Will & Grace" fame) as a backstabbing used-car dealer. With their contrasting sizes, the duo come across as a Tennessee version of Boris and Natasha, garnering as many laughs as that nefarious animated pair.

Smartly representing the good guys without getting too syrupy are charismatic Kyle Dean Massey as the aspiring songwriter, sweet Savannah Wise as the cute secretary he falls for, canny Jim Newman as the struggling record company president, and sassy Jenn Colella as his spunky hairdresser girlfriend. Supplying riotous support and sporting some of Long's more insane costumes are Callan Bergmann, Xavier Cano, Wes Hart, and Joshua Woodie as a quartet called the Buckaroos. They also expertly perform A.C. Ciulla's clever choreography and Todd Ellison's vocal arrangements.

We're all lucky to have this "Lucky Guy."

Presented by L. Glenn Poppleton at the Little Shubert Theatre, 422 W. 42nd St., NYC. May 19–July 24. Mon., Wed.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7:30 p.m. (212) 239-6200, (800) 432-7250, or Casting by Janet Foster.