Theatergoers who find nothing more amusing than the sight of a four-foot-something comic nuzzling his brow in the falsies of a 6-foot-something leading “lady” will find repeated opportunities to chortle at “Lucky Guy,” the new tenant at the little-used Little Shubert. Off Broadway has a history of tongue-in-cheek mini-tuners that poke fun at the format, going back to “Little Mary Sunshine” and “Dames at Sea.” This type of froth is hard to sustain: The souffle quickly deflates if you whip the meringue with a heavy hand. So goes “Lucky Guy.”
Spoof tells of a novice songwriter from Oklahoma who comes to the big city — Nashville, y’all — as winner of a song contest; the squeaky clean secretary he falls in love with; the singin’ star who tries to steal the surefire songhit; a hairdresser to the stars who crosses her eyes when she sings; her ineffectual beau; and a slimy used-car dealer who’s mixed up in it all. Every step of the story is set to song pastiches; 26 of ’em, with lots of reprises and little distinction.
Slices of this are entertaining, and the chorus of four Buckaroos livens up about a dozen numbers with their athletic choreography (even when they are arrayed in little more than headgear and loincloths). But this sort of romp is hard to keep up, and impossible to resurrect once it falls flat.
Musical is actually older than “The Phantom of the Opera.” A fall 1987 Broadway opening was canceled when the tryout folded in Dallas, despite the presence of helmers Gerald Gutierrez and Peter Gennaro and thesps Beth Fowler and Faith Prince. “Lucky Guy” has tentatively resurfaced now and again over the decades, most recently in a 2009 showing at Goodspeed.
This time out, composer-lyricist-librettist Willard Beckham directs as well; not a great sign, especially when this is apparently his first directing stint. He and his producers have seen fit to camp it up, and how. What had reportedly been a sweet, country-western affair is now spangled in sequins and laced with entendres.
Leslie Jordan, the diminutive comedian known for “My Trip Down the Pink Carpet” and an Emmy-winning stint on “Will and Grace,” plays Big Al, dressed in a peach-colored suit embroidered with silver gas guzzlers. Nashville singing star Miss Jeannie Jeannine is played by Varla Jean Merman (a.k.a. Jeffrey Roberson), who certainly knows how to wear a gown and bat an eyelash.
Kyle Dean Massey and Savannah Wise are likable as tunesmith and secretary, and the entire company works hard. Physical production is strange, with spare Off Broadway-like sets uncomfortably spread across the oversized Little Shubert stage. These are countered by keenly designed and expensive-looking costumes from William Ivey Long, the Broadway master’s second consecutive Off Broadway job (following dazzling work on “School for Lies”).
“Lucky Guy” is sure to find some fans: The crowd at the critic’s preview attended was boisterous (although it appeared to be heavily papered). Show is likely to appeal to at least some of the folks who supported another campy musical spoof, “Xanadu,” which carved out a relatively lengthy run on Broadway but never turned a profit.