Theater archives

Lucky Guy–an Old Story Tries Putting on the Glitz


Like show people, shows themselves often have misguided ambitions. Take Lucky Guy (Little Shubert), a simple, warmhearted little musical that preaches down-to-earth honesty, integrity, and the love of kinfolk and family life. But Lucky Guy, misguidedly, dreams of being glitzier and gaudier than any Broadway smash hit, so it does its preaching with an all-stops-out, self-consciously campy showiness that affects its material like a tsunami hitting a Japanese fishing village—if you can imagine a tsunami composed entirely of glitter and italicized gestures.

The simple shack of a story line that gets crushed beneath this relentless wave of overdoing is old enough to have served for a thousand such stories before, telling how a few humble, sincere country folk not only outsmart the city slickers plotting to swindle them, but end up finding wealth and true love as well. To make sure that nobody misses the point, the villains are made both comic and grotesque. “Comic” may be a misnomer, since author-director Willard Beckham apparently shares the degraded notion, derived from TV sitcom, that comedy consists of signaling to the audience that you are a funny person, rather than doing anything that actually makes them laugh.

Luckily for him, the drag queen Varla Jean Merman—who plays one of Beckham’s two comic grotesques, a conniving, man-hungry “queen of country music”—has sufficient technical skill to manage her dismal task with reasonable discretion; her partner-in-crime, Leslie Jordan, is a small person whose garish efforts at clowning do nothing to heighten his artistic stature. In fact, the only two people involved who actually do succeed at raising an occasional laugh are the choreographer, A.C. Ciulla, whose pelvic notions of cowboy dance, as conveyed by the four-man chorus, suggest the Gaiety Burlesque’s Wyoming franchise, and the costume designer, William Ivey Long, who knows that even excess has to be carefully measured. (During Jordan’s wearisome tantrums, you can study the appliqués on his jacket.)

Beckham’s score, like his plot and his humor, is strictly secondhand; his notion of country music seems derived from late-1920s Tin Pan Alley, Hawaiian novelty numbers and all. The whole event seems a disservice to the four likeable performers who play his good guys: Savannah Wise, Kyle Dean Massey, Jenn Colella, and Jim Newman, all of whom, like Merman, strive gamely to inject some humanity into the neon clamor. No such luck, since they have to bend it with Beckham.